Parkinson's disease

Driving and journeys

The possibility of losing their driving licence would alarm anyone owning and driving a car. For someone with Parkinson’s it is much more serious. For people trapped in their bodies through difficulties with mobility the car represents freedom and independence, especially in rural areas. Fortunately few of the people interviewed had had to give up driving.

The law requires a person diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease to inform the DVLA or DVA (in Northern Ireland). When Rafa did this, the DVLA wrote to him asking for him to return his licence. But this was later returned to him with instructions to renew it in three years. Most people had similar experiences and said that all they needed to do was to ask their GP or their neurologist to help them complete a 'medical fitness to drive' form stating whether they considered them fit to drive. People may also need to have a medical or driving assessment to confirm their ability to drive safely, but for some people the DVLA may withdraw their licence altogether.
Some people wondered themselves whether it was still safe for them to drive and had asked to be tested. Fiona’s husband was gearing himself up towards being told he could no longer drive. Alan had reluctantly given up and agreed to allow his wife to do all the driving. Fred had agreed to go for a test which he expected to take four hours.
The main problem affecting driving for people with Parkinson’s disease is tremor in the arms or legs or both. Several people had obtained advice from the government motability scheme and in some cases financial help with adapting their existing car or buying a new one. Usually the only adaptation needed was conversion from manual to automatic.
Some people admitted that their tendency to suddenly fall asleep made them nervous about driving, especially long distances. Fred had once nearly fallen asleep on the way to Wales but had dealt with this by drawing over to the side of the road and resting. Obviously where such bouts of sleeping were sudden and unexpected driving was not advised. Several people were now driving only short distances or had reluctantly handed over most of the driving to someone else. Some people now travelled by public transport and although they were slower getting on and off buses or trains, they could get around quite easily.
Holidays and travel were something that people with Parkinson’s often had to organise differently. Airports became extra stressful, though several people mentioned the advantage of making it clear at the time of booking that someone had mobility problems. This could often make things much easier.
Ann and her husband decided to go to New Zealand. They gave themselves plenty of time so that there were always opportunities to recover from exhausting aspects to the trip. They did their own driving which meant they could stop whenever they felt like it. As she said, if she was tired they ‘did nothing, just sat and looked at the view, did a short walk.' Fiona and her partner went on a cruise which worked well as there were things for each of them to do.
Some people mentioned that they could no longer stay overnight with friends. All sorts of problems which they had succeeded in resolving at home became unbearable when away. The bed needed to be the right height, and probably not shared with anyone. They needed to get out of bed often at night and needed easy access to a lavatory. Some people had difficulty sleeping and needed to be somewhere where they didn’t disturb anyone else, and maybe also to be able to make a drink or find some food. People had got stuck in baths which weren’t adapted. Brian to whom this had happened now used a travelling grab rail which he could attached to any bathroom wall.

For advice on all aspects of driving the government has a very helpful website GOV.UK - see the disabled people section 'Disability, equipment and transport' which has information about public and community transport, adapting vehicles and options for buying or hiring cars, vehicle tax for disabled drivers and transport rights and details of the Blue Badge scheme. Also information about train and bus travel, bus passes and shopmobility.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.

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