Understanding the testing alphabet

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Shortly before their 75th birthday, Albertans receive a letter from Alberta Transportation advising them to arrange a medical exam in order to renew their driver’s licence.

The exam, (cost covered by Alberta Health), can be administered by most family physicians, and includes vision, hearing, blood pressure and mini-mental cognitive ability tests, as well as a review of overall health.

Although it’s not mandatory, some doctors may decide to also administer the SIMARD MD (Screen for the Identification of Cognitively Impaired Medically At-Risk Drivers), a paper and pencil test, developed by the University of Alberta’s Medically At-Risk Driver Centre, as part of their cognitive evaluation. The test involves the doctor asking a series of questions such as identifying objects found in a grocery store or asking a driver to repeat letters or numbers in sequence

Drivers who fail the medical exam may decide to retire from driving, otherwise, their doctors may refer them for further assessment to the Glenrose Hospital, or for a non-mandatory computer-based cognitive assessment known as the DriveABLE test administered by a private company, or for an actual road test. The Driver Evaluation and Training Service at the Glenrose is covered by Alberta Health but has a waiting list of about of three months during which time the driver’s licence may be suspended. The DriveABLE test costs about $250.

A reviewing officer with Alberta Transportation’s Driver Fitness and Monitoring reviews the test results and may decide, for example, to apply conditions like restricting a driver with vision limitations to only drive during certain times of the day.

The Registrar of Motor Vehicles has the authority to cancel or suspend a driver’s licence. But drivers can appeal the registrar’s decision to the Alberta Transportation Safety Board.

Licence renewal is not a primary talking point for the Alberta Council on Aging the way housing and long term care are, executive director Donna Durand says, “however, it is a significant issue because we do hear from the general public and members when they are faced with taking a test.”

The council agrees with the Alberta Motor Association that drivers need to have the cognitive and physical skills required to operate a motor vehicle safely, Durand adds, “but sometimes people say ‘I don’t use a computer,’ so they get nervous about that (simulated driving test).

“The people that deliver the test say you don’t need to be able to use a computer it’s so simple, however … if you’re nervous about a test you’re not probably going to do your best,” Durand says.

To get an idea of what cognitive tests await drivers renewing their licence at age 75, an example of the SIMARD MD test can be found at https://psssupport.telushealth.com/content/Alberta/SIMARD-MD.pdf.

A DriveABLE Cognitive Assessment Tool demonstration can be found on youtube.

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Chris Zdeb is a veteran journalist.