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Driving Post-Stroke: A professional’s advice

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Driving after a stroke can be difficult due to the physical and cognitive impairments caused by stroke, charities like East Anglian DriveAbility help to get stroke survivors back behind the wheel and driving confidently.

Here, CEO of East Anglian DriveAbility, Yvette Bateman, gives SR Times professional insight into what stroke survivors eager to get back behind the wheel can expect, as well as helpful tips in making appropriate adjustments to your car.

Yvette also gives advice for driving instructors on how they can adapt to be able to teach stroke survivors.

What should a stroke survivor expect when getting back behind the wheel post-stroke for the first time?

Driving takes a lot of concentration so be prepared to be tired. This isn’t the case for everyone but is very common. You may find yourself driving much more slowly than you used to to begin with as the brain has to get used to process information at 30, 40, 60 mph

What can a stroke survivor do in preparation for their first lesson?

In my opinion I think driving tuition should be viewed as part of the rehabilitation process. Just as some people have had to learn to walk or talk again by practicing they may have to go through the same process for driving. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else as all strokes are different and affect everyone differently. You have been through a life changing event and often driving is the last piece of the jigsaw to getting independence back.

How can driving instructors adapt to be able to teach stroke survivors?

The best approach would be to attend a Driving Mobility (DM) course for driving instructors Disability Awareness for Driving Instructors.

This course is delivered by DM, designed for Driving Instructors and examiners in order to give them an understanding of the fields of disability and the implication for potential drivers.

    • The psychology of disability and the Disability Act.
    • Instruction methods and approaches are explored with reference to Centres who can offer specialist advice.
    • Legal, technical and safety implications of driving an adapted vehicle
    • Vehicle Adaptations and Driving solutions are explored
    • Promoting Ability through Disability awareness.

Be patient and unless they are a new learner with a provisional driving licence you are not teaching them to pass their test. You are teaching them to be a safe driver. This may be someone with many years driving experience.

Be led by your client, ask them about their recovery and what if anything in daily life they are finding difficult.

Make sure that anybody with communication problems is understanding what is being said and that you can understand them.

If you notice a problem that isn’t improving then an assessment at a Driving Mobility assessment centre should be recommended as there may be underlying residual problems from the stroke that are not obviously evident.

What adaptations can be made to the car to assist a stroke survivor?

There are many adaptations that can be made to a vehicle to compensate for physical disabilities. This can range from something as simple as a steering spinner on the steering wheel to aid steering to more complex adaptations to assist with accelerating and braking and operating the secondary controls.

If a stroke has caused a reduction of movement on the right side of the body then an automatic vehicle with an accelerator on the left may be required. This means accelerating and braking are both completed using the left leg. A steering spinner with remote secondary controls can be used with the left hand to steer and operate the indicators, lights, wipers, horn etc.

If there is a reduction of movement on the left side of the body then a standard automatic with steering spinner with or without secondary controls may be suitable.

It is important to state that everybody is individual and what suits one person may not suit the next. It is always advisable to attend for an assessment and a trial of the adaptations to ensure they are suitable as it could be costly if the wrong adaptations are chosen.

Even if the person is reliant on a wheelchair for the majority of their mobility, there are adaptations to assist with transferring into the driver’s seat and stowing the wheelchair or scooter.

The thought of driving again after a stroke can be a daunting one, what advice would you give to a stroke survivor thinking about getting back behind the wheel?

A stroke can really knock a person’s confidence so often people are very anxious returning to driving after a stroke. Driving is one of the most complex tasks we do in our daily lives and there is nothing in the rehabilitation process that replicates it.

Driving Mobility has mobility centres across the UK that specialise in medical fitness to drive assessments. The assessments are conducted jointly by a clinician and an approved driving instructor both who have undertaken further training in this specialised field. This means that the assessment will be objective and determine whether there are any residual difficulties following the stroke that may impact on safe driving. If there are it may be that a few refresher lessons are required before returning to driving independently or some simple adaptations are required to ensure car control is maintained easily.

Often people are surprised as the neural pathways for driving are quite deep and the activity of driving is maintained to a high standard. The assessment is designed to be supportive and to ensure that people are able to return to driving as soon as they are safe to do so.

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