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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 141 No. 0102 (2011)

Cognition and driving in older persons

  • JT Wagner
  • T Nef
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2011;141:w13136


In Switzerland, approximately 350 000 people aged 70 years or older own a valid driving license. By law, these drivers are medically assessed every other year, most commonly by their general practitioner, to exclude that a medical condition is interfering with their driving skills. A prerequisite for driving is the integration of high-level cognitive functions with perception and motor function. Ageing, per se, does not necessarily impair driving or increase the crash risk. However, medical conditions, such as cognitive impairment and dementia, become more prevalent with advancing age and may contribute to poor driving and an increased crash risk. The extent to which driving skills are impaired depends on the cause of dementia, disease severity, other co-morbidities and individual compensation strategies. Dementia often remains undiagnosed and therefore general practitioners (GPs) can find themselves in the difficult situation to disclose a suspicion about cognitive impairment and queries about medical fitness to drive, at the same time. In addition, the literature suggests that cognitive screening tests, most commonly used by GPs, have a limited role in judging whether an older person remains fit to drive. Further specialist assessment, for example in a memory clinic or on the road testing (ORT), may be helpful when the diagnosis or its implication for driving remain unclear. Here, we review the literature about cognition and driving, for GPs who advise older drivers who wish to continue driving.


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