Did you know that health care professionals (physicians, occupational therapists) are obligated to notify the Société de l’Assurance Automobile (SAAQ) about anyone who has recently undergone a mental or physical change that could hinder their ability to drive? The SAAQ can then require that the person undergo a medical assessment from an occupational therapist to evaluate their driving ability.
Beverley Bacinski-Jenkins has been an occupational therapist with Clinique GOTM’s mobile team since 2004. She tells us how occupational therapy can help people who need to this evaluation.
An occupational therapist has the training and experience necessary to assess any individual and get an overall picture of their functional and perceptual-cognitive functions.
With an in-depth knowledge of the skills required for someone to safely drive a vehicle on their own, the occupational therapist will be able to determine if their client is able to do so. They are the best professional to determine if a driver is a danger to themselves or others and if so, they can design a plan to mitigate the risk factors.
Most people we meet are senior citizens, some of whom are showing the first signs of dementia. As occupational therapists, we must assess if the person still has the cognitive, physical, and perceptual abilities to drive a vehicle in a manner that does not put themselves or others in danger.
Keep in mind that when a senior citizen turns 75, they must be assessed by a physician who can confirm their state of health. In some cases, the physician may require that the patient undergo a more in-depth evaluation, which is provided by an occupational therapist. A medical evaluation is also required for seniors when they turn 80 and once every two years after that.
As occupational therapists, we can also evaluate clients who are affected by physical limitations caused by neurological disorders. For instance, patients who have suffered a stroke or head trauma may have to undergo an evaluation once their abilities start to deteriorate. In brief, anyone with a physical, mental, or cognitive impairment may have to undergo an evaluation if they want to start or keep driving.
Anyone with a driver’s licence must notify the SAAQ of any change in their state of health that could hinder their ability to drive in the 30 days following the diagnosis.
However, most evaluation requests come from health care professionals who, after assessing the individual, are doubtful the individual can keep driving. As health care professionals, we are also required to notify the SAAQ when we have concerns about the abilities of a client, especially someone who still drives.
Anyone can anonymously notify the SAAQ themselves if they are worried about the driving abilities of someone they know. Moreover, a family member or the person themselves can also request this kind of evaluation without notifying the SAAQ if they think they might not be able to drive safely. This kind of request is not made to make life harder for the impaired individual but to help protect them!
The evaluation is divided into two parts. First, the professional will meet with the client and evaluate their physical, cognitive, and perceptual abilities. They will undergo a few tests that will assess if they have the abilities necessary to drive, including concentration, spatial orientation, coordination, reflexes, as well as the mobility of their arms, legs, upper body, neck, etc. The occupational therapist will also ask their client about their driving habits to understand why and how they drive. This first meeting lasts approximately 2 to 3 hours.
The second part is a practical evaluation of the client’s driving skills, with an occupational therapist and driving instructor in a special vehicle with two sets of brakes. It allows the occupational therapist to observe and check the issues brought up during the functional evaluation. This second part lasts about an hour. Once this is done, the occupational therapist will be able to provide the patient and the SAAQ with recommendations regarding their driving.
The final decision about whether or not the client may continue driving is up to the SAAQ. However, we provide a report that can include recommendations on how to adapt a vehicle or the conditions the client must follow to continue driving. We can also recommend that the person follow a driving lesson to refresh their knowledge, or we can recommend that their driver’s licence be revoked if they do not have the aptitudes necessary to be safe on the roads (for instance, a person with dementia who is already having trouble with certain aspects of driving).
The team at Clinique GOTM includes several occupational therapists who, like me, have the skills necessary to evaluate the driving abilities of individuals who are affected by various conditions.
Because our services are mobile, we can travel directly to the home or workplace of the client for the first meeting and we will take care of organizing every step of the entire evaluation process. Our clients appreciate that our services are quick and flexible. Anyone who wants to get a medical assessment can call upon Clinique GOTM and they’ll generally be able to book an appointment within 48 hours! Driving is essential for remaining independent and can impact a person’s self-confidence. It’s important to act quickly!
Beverley Bacinski-Jenkins graduated from the McGill University School of Physical and Occupational therapy in 1998. She has been working as an occupational therapist since then in a variety of environments, such as for home care services, CLSC, CHSLD, CRDP, and private rehabilitation clinics. In her many years of experience, she has worked with clients dealing with a range of health conditions. What makes her passionate about her job is the problem-solving skills and creativity required in occupational therapy!