By Sarah Gillespie, MSW, RSW

Driving is one of the most challenging and emotionally charged aspects of dementia. While older individuals can drive safely, those with dementia generally cannot. Dementia gradually erodes key areas of function necessary for safe driving. These area include response times, judgement, problem solving skills, and sense of direction.


Dementia Diagnosis and Suspending Your Ontario Driver’s License

In Ontario, doctors and nurse practitioners are required by law to report a person’s diagnosis of dementia to the Ministry of Transportation. Ontario law states that once a diagnosis of dementia is reported, the Ministry of Transport suspends the person’s license. For some this is a relief. For others it is a very emotionally charged loss of causing anxiety, anger and resentment. This can be especially true for a person who has lost the ability to assess their own functioning, because of dementia.


Appealing the Ministry’s Suspension Decision

In Ontario, when a person’s license is suspended they receive a letter from the Ministry of Transportation. There are several options of what to do next. One option is to appeal the decision. The letter the Ministry sends will detail this process. The Ministry’s website can also be a helpful resource. It includes information about places where a functional driving assessment can be completed. This test is different from a regular drivers test, and it comes a cost, which can vary by location. Before a functional driving test can be performed the individual being tested needs a temporary driver’s license. Once a license is medically suspended, the testing organization can request a one day temporary driver’s license for the assessment. The Ministry of Transport will need a medical report to verify that the assessment is appropriate. Your doctor needs to file a medical report before the temporary driver’s license can requested. This appeals process can be frustrating, especially when appeals are not successful..


Practical implications of losing their license

Many people have driven a car for their whole adult lives. Every person has a different relationship to driving, and different feelings about the loss of their license. For some, driving is part of their identity and a symbol of their independence.


Not remembering they have lost their license

Someone who has been diagnosed with dementia may have a difficult time remembering that they have lost their license. Family members and others may not understand why the suspension was necessary. If the person with dementia accepts the decision the process is easy. Often people resist the decision. They cannot understand explanations or why they cannot drive. Family members may have to take practical action to ensure that the person who has lost their license is no longer driving in order to keep them and others safe.



Strategies to consider:

  • Removing the car keys
  • Removing the car
  • Disabling the car

Complications for errands and activities

Driving is an everyday activity for many because it helps us to get to the errands and activities in our lives. The loss of license can create challenges in getting to everyday places. Practical activities like shopping, appointments and social activities become harder to access. This is especially challenging in rural areas, where distances needed to travel are longer. Travel alternatives can also be more limited and costly. Setting up other methods of transportation is essential.



Strategies to consider:

  • Organizing a driving schedule with family and friends
  • Public Transit which may require that the person with dementia be accompanied
  • Taxis and ride share programs which are prepared to provide necessary supervision and guidance
  • Local Seniors transportation programs

Discussing the loss: A communication challenge

Like many difficult subjects, communication around the loss of a license is essential. But it can be difficult to talk about with someone who has lost the ability to understand or is upset or angry. Try to avoid getting into debates or attempts to convince the person with dementia. There are several communication strategies which can be helpful.



Strategies to consider:

  • Using clear simple statements that do not require the person with dementia to remember or reason, will reduce confusion.


Instead of saying:

“Remember the doctor said you couldn’t drive, and the Ministry sent you that letter about your license”


“I am going to drive today”.


  • Acknowledging the emotions that the person is expressing. This doesn’t mean you have to agree, just acknowledge the emotions you are hearing them tell you.


Instead of saying:

“Don’t be angry. It’s for your own safety.”


“”It’s impossible not to feel angry that you can’t drive. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m here and we can solve the problem together.”

Watch our “Your Questions Answered” video on driving

3 min. 46 sec.


Sarah Gillespie, MSW, RSW
Mental Health Clinician


Cyril, Dorothy, Joel and Jill Reitman Centre
for Alzheimer’s Support and Training & Outpatient Geriatric Psychiatry

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