Driving tests for seniors dismissed as ‘cash grab’

A testing program for driver-licence renewal, for people 75 and older, is alarming seniors across the province.

A testing program for driver-licence renewal, for people 75 and older, is alarming seniors across the province.

A number of concerned Stettler seniors gathered last Tuesday at the Stettler Seniors’ Centre to hear representatives from the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society address the problems facing seniors.

Elder advocates Ruth Adria of Edmonton and Bill Bears of St. Albert detailed the problems the Simard–MD (Modified Demtect) and DriveABLE tests are inflicting on seniors.

The tests were described as being part of a pilot project, developed by the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Bonnie Dobbs and Dr. Allen Dobbs.

The Simard-MD test was written by Bonnie Dobbs, while her husband developed and manages the DriveABLE program.

The main message delivered by the pair was that “the tests are not accurate and not mandatory.”

Adria said the Simard–MD is a mental screening test for cognitive impairment and dementia.

“It sets the senior up for failure,” she said. “It’s very difficult to pass.”

She cited a 2011 random Simard-MD test on a group of high-profile working citizens who weren’t seniors. All but two failed.

One of those failing included an Alberta cabinet minister, Adria said.

She said that if seniors fail that test, they’re requested to take the Drive-ABLE test, which costs $250.

DriveABLE , a private-for-profit assessment centre, requires seniors to use a computer to answer questions about driving scenarios, Adria said.

She said many seniors have never used a computer.

Adria called the program “a cash grab” that costs the Alberta taxpayer.

Physicians administering the Simard-MD test can invoice Alberta Health Services for more than $200, she said.

Adria said the Elder Advocates of Alberta receives complaints from seniors about the program almost daily.

Elder advocates challenge the validity of the test and the need for it.

Adria pointed out that 2010 statistics from Alberta Transportation show senior drivers are responsible for the least amount of traffic collisions and fatalities of any age group.

Two seniors who failed the Simard-MD test — Ken Jones of Delburne and Adolf Adam of Rimbey — were in the audience.

Jones said that in one component of the test, 10 unrelated words were said and he had to repeat them back within a minute.

Another required him to list 30 grocery items within a minute, he said.

Adam’s wife, Lillian, said within hours of her husband failing the Simard-MD test, they received a phone call from the DriveABLE organization, wanting to set up an appointment.

Adria said her organization could list a number of seniors who failed both tests, yet passed a road test with no difficulty.

Bears said most seniors believe the screening test is a mandatory government program and don’t know they have a choice.

He said they can say no, and go to another doctor.

Alberta only requires a physical medical test after age 75. It’s at the doctor’s discretion that a Simard-MD test is administered.

Bears said the screening tests were based on 1990 predictions that projected a rapidly aging population would be a detriment to road safety.

He said statistics and studies have “proved that to be catastrophically wrong.”

Scientific evidence has proved that senior-related traffic accidents have instead dropped, Bears said.

He said for the program to prevent six traffic accidents, it would take 211 drivers off the road needlessly.

Bears said studies comparing jurisdictions that have implemented the Simard-MD program with those that haven’t show no difference in the number of senior-related traffic accidents.

He said Tasmania had adopted the program, but that country has since abolished it.

“Studies have related senior well-being with mobility and independence — it gives better mental and physical health,” Bears said.

“We can’t allow this to become a recognized government program,” he said.

Darlene Dushanek, part of the Delburne delegation and daughter of Ken Jones, urged seniors to start a letter-writing campaign to Transportation Minister Ric McIver and Alberta MLAs before the Simard-MD and DriveABLE tests potentially become law.

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