For many older Australians, the freedom of the open road is part and parcel of daily life. However, as the years advance, the act of driving, once taken for granted, can become a source of uncertainty and concern.

In NSW, Occupational Therapist (OT) driving assessments and My Aged Care services are crucial junctions older drivers often encounter. This journey leads them to crucial decisions about mobility and, ultimately, independence.

This comprehensive guide addresses what every older driver should understand about OT driving assessments, the paved path to My Aged Care, and why these milestones matter.

The Road to Understanding OT Driving Assessments

Occupational Therapists, as experts in the rehabilitation process, perform driving assessments to evaluate an individual’s medical fitness to drive. This evaluation is critically important for older drivers with medical conditions that may impact their ability to drive safely. It is important to note that this assessment specifically focuses on driving and medical conditions, and differs from the RMS older driver test (which is required at age 85 years). After all, age, in itself, is not a medical condition.

As with all licenced drivers, medical conditions or disabilities that could impact one’s driving must be reported to the RMS. In many instances, it is the person’s doctor that makes this initial evaluation about whether a medical condition is potentially affecting driving. This is usually the driver’s GP, however a specialist doctor may also become involved and asked to make an assessment.

RMS Medical Fitness to Drive Form

Drivers report medical conditions using the RMS Fitness to Drive form. It requires specific details about health issues and a medical practitioner’s confirmation that the patient can safely operate a vehicle. Completion of this form is mandatory for license renewal once the person turns 75 years old. Compliance is mandatory for continued driving privileges.

Common Conditions Requiring OT Driving Assessment include:

  • Vision impairment, including cataracts and glaucoma
  • Cognitive decline, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
  • Physical disabilities that affect movement or coordination, e.g. after a stroke
  • Side effects from medications that can cause drowsiness or impair reaction time

The Purpose of the OT Driving Assessment

Often with older drivers, their doctor may ask them to complete an OT driving assessment to comprehensively determine their medical fitness to drive.

This assessment consists of two clear parts:

  1. Off-road tests evaluating your cognition, vision, and physical capacities. These tests aim is to identify any potential issues that could impair driving ability.
  1. Any detected concerns are probed in the on-road segment, where you’ll operate a dual-controlled car—of your preferred transmission—for an hour. This phase gauges the real-time impact of your medical condition on driving. An OT and driving instructor will monitor for safe RMS-compliant driving practices, with intervention severity influencing the assessment outcome.

Minimal or nil physical assistance from the driving instructor usually leads to a positive result. The report is sent to the RMS, client and referring physician. Depending on the recommendations following the driving evaluation, the person may be able to continue driving as normal. In some instances when the person has not achieved a successful result, the evaluation process may continue. A driving rehabilitation program (including vehicle modifications if necessary) may be recommended. In these cases, the person may need to see the OT again before their medical condition is cleared for driving.

Accessing OT Driving Assessments with My Aged Care

My Aged Care is a nexus for comprehensive aged care services in Australia. This platform provides access to a plethora of support resources, including pathways to OT evaluations, all in the interest of assisting seniors in maintaining their quality of life. Depending on your funding availability, My Aged Care may be able cover the costs of the assessment.

The Tailored Safety Gears from an OT Driving Assessment

Older drivers can rest assured that the benefits of an OT driving assessment are myriad. These evaluations offer bespoke strategies for better and safer driving, a gift of motorised independence that many fears they might lose as they age or are diagnosed with a medical condition. The main goal of these assessments is to ensure that the driver’s skills are fit for the road, minimising risks and potential accidents. They are designed to keep not only the driver safe but also other road users.

Customised Driving Recommendations

After the assessment, OT professionals provide detailed suggestions that can range from vehicle modifications and recommended driving aids to specific training and further support, all aimed at improving the driver’s safety profile. For some people degenerative medical conditions, annual (or more frequent) OT driving assessments may be necessary to closely monitor the progress of their condition and any impact on driving. Such conditions can include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
  • Progressive neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease
  • Advanced forms of arthritis causing significant joint pain and limitation
  • Diabetic neuropathy affecting limb sensation and control
  • Muscular dystrophy and similar conditions leading to muscle weakness
  • Multiple sclerosis with progressing symptoms affecting mobility and cognition

The Odyssey of Challenges Faced by Older Drivers

Navigating the legal complexities of driving with a medical condition can be emotional and riddled with challenges. From understanding your medical condition to combing through your psychological response, this is often a difficult period for older drivers and their families. For some people with conditions that progressively worsen over time (e.g. dementia or Parkinson’s disease), this process can instigate the realisation that alternative transportation may need to be considered.

The Encouragement to Engage

For those on the brink of this decision juncture, the best advice is to embrace the process wholeheartedly. Seek the assessments, ask the questions, and be honest with your treating doctor. Your road is, and should remain, your own – for as long as it is safe to travel.

In summary, understanding and engaging with OT driving assessments, in conjunction with My Aged Care services, is a strategic move towards preserving the joys of driving while ensuring the highest levels of safety.

Learn more about our NDIS driving assessments.

Contact us today to get started.