First and foremost, driving is as much an emotional issue as it is one of practicality. Driving = Independence and many seniors feel that losing their driving privileges represents the beginning of the end. I mean, how would you feel?
Driving a car is a symbol of independence and competence and closely tied to an individual’s identity. It represents freedom and control and allows older adults to gain easy access to social connections, health care, shopping, activities and even employment. At some point driving skills may deteriorate and individuals may lose the ability to safely operate a vehicle. The decision must be balanced with personal and public safety.
Assess yourself then assess your loved one’s ability to drive safely:
- Assess your own feelings about older drivers in general, and see if you need to be a bit more understanding with their abilities behind the wheel.
- Get a better idea about the driving skills of your relative by driving with him or her, and checking to see if they have had any traffic infractions recently.
- Be very observant to their overall handling of the vehicle.
- Do not critique your loved one’s driving. Instead, provide support and reassure them of their capabilities.
- If you fear they have lost the ability to properly handle driving all the time, describe some viable alternatives such as driving during the day, and only driving on local streets.
- Have your loved one’s vehicle checked routinely for general maintenance.
- Research programs available that can assist the driver in creating a better driving approach.
- Establish some routines for your relative to follow such as planning the route before going anywhere, or ensuring that the weather will remain “driver friendly.”
Signs that it may be time to stop driving include:
- Forgetting how to locate familiar places
- Failing to observe traffic signs
- Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
- Driving at an inappropriate speed
- Becoming angry or confused while driving
- Hitting curbs
- Using poor lane control
- Making errors at intersections
- Confusing the brake and gas pedals
- Returning from a routine drive later than usual
- Forgetting the destination during the trip
Get Tested By the Best!
A driving test offered by various programs is designed to test a senior’s ability to continue driving. These programs are conducted in various places, such as Bryn Mawr Rehab in the Philadelphia area, and are implemented by Occupational Therapists. They charge a fee, and report drivers who fail their test to the Department of Licensing. They also help teach skills to those who would benefit from instruction.
The Big Question:
One key question to be answered is, “Would you feel safe riding with your parent driving or having your child ride with your parents?” If the answer is “no,” then the issue needs to be addressed openly and in a spirit of love and support.
Older drivers may also benefit by:
- Exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
- Limiting driving to daytime, low traffic, short radius, and clear weather outings.
- Planning the safest route and find well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
- Asking the doctor or pharmacist to review medicines that reduce side effects and interactions.
- Having an eye exam at least once a year. Wearing glasses and corrective lenses as required.
- Considering alternative sources for transportation and volunteering to be a passenger.
If you believe a parent’s safety is in jeopardy from their driving you should:
Check on local and city transportation available such as buses and community shuttles.
See of other family members will offer rides when needed.
Ask neighbors or friends of your loved one to run errands if you are unavailable.
Review insurance plans, which may include transportation costs for monthly doctor visits and errands.
Set Goals Now for Future Driving Issues
Driving is an earned privilege and skill that is subject to change later in life. Encouraging constant adjustment until an older individual has to face driving cessation seems to be a positive approach. Recognize the magnitude of this transition because it does compromise an older person’s quality of life. Keeping our roads safe, while supporting older drivers, is a worthy goal to set now, for future peace of mind.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies