For many of us, driving is a big part of life. Think of those family trips, that first car. Passing our driving test is a cause for celebration. But what happens if and when the prospect of stopping driving becomes real?
A recent Independent Age report surveyed over 2000 older drivers aged 70 and over in the West Midlands and it makes interesting reading. More than 80% say that having a car is important to them because they like the freedom of being able to go where they want, when they want. Almost half (44%) of drivers aged 70 and over report that they would feel like '...they’d lost part of their identity if they were not able to drive'. And while it's important to support people to drive as long for as they are able, 'It’s also vital that people who are no longer able to drive have access to information on the various options available for getting around without a car'.
These are issues that we've heard over the last year or so in Upstream workshops. People experiencing the sensory and cognitive challenges of dementia either need to stop driving or face the prospect in the near future and this can be a difficult and life changing transition with consequences that go far beyond the practicalities of driving. It’s an emotional experience that can lead to difficult conversations, confusing and inconsistent advice and, often, feelings of anger and a loss of control. We’ve also heard from people who can continue to drive but are unsure of the what lies ahead.
We began to wonder what if a service was available to support people through this difficult time? What would it look like and what support could it provide?
We’ve got some initial ideas but we won’t know of course, until we ask people affected by dementia.
So, over the last few months Upstream has been helping with a new project called Onwards, funded by the Life Changes Trust and led by Viaqqio, that is aiming to do just that. We’ve been asking people affected by dementia about the challenges of retiring from driving and what types of support that might help the process. We’ve been holding workshops across Scotland which have been fantastic and moving, upsetting and thought-provoking. We’ve talked about what driving means to us all and what the key challenges are when giving up or facing the prospect.
We’re learning that:
- driving symbolises independence and freedom, the ability to travel where and when we want. Something that other transport options appear not to offer
- many people are advised to stop driving at the time of diagnosis and different medical professionals might be involved in the conversation along the way
- there is sometimes little information about why the decision has been made or what to do next
- this is an issue that people want to talk about but find it difficult to. They want more information but don't know where to find it.
We’ve just returned to the groups to have conversations that will help us to understand what type of support a service could provide and how it will be delivered.
This project isn’t just about learning though, Viaqqio will be building a prototype service and testing it out in the coming year.
It’s a great opportunity for Upstream to use our engagement methods to explore driving and to contribute to a service that could make a real and immediate difference to the lives of people living with dementia. We’ll let you know how we get on.