Posted on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 at 1:11 pm and filed under Senior Driving
You may wonder about the performance of your senior loved one on the road. You want to support his or her continued independence, but on the other hand you worry about their driving abilities. Unfortunate as it is, we donâ€™t all retain the ability to drive a car throughout our lifetime. Medications, loss of vision, frailty, physical disabilities, and even senility can end anyoneâ€™s driving career prematurely or permanently. So, how can you tell when the time has come for someone to stop driving?
Giving up driving is a transition that everyone involved wishes to put off as long as possible. For many older people, the very thought of losing a driverâ€™s license is upsetting to say the least. And with good reason. As a culture Americans rely heavily on cars for our everyday lives and to get where weâ€™re going — to work, to the doctor, religious services, shopping, visiting friends and relatives, and sometimes even just to get out for a ride. A vast majority of seniors equate losing their driving privileges with becoming dependent, feeling trapped at home, curtailing the freedom to control when and where they can come and go, and be spontaneous.
It isnâ€™t always immediately obvious when your senior loved one has reached the point where itâ€™s time to give up the car keys. The decline of skills necessary to operate a car safely can occur both suddenly and subtly. There may be a pattern of close calls, violations like citations for driving too slow or too fast, or even minor fender benders or collisions. Your loved one may have increasing difficulty noticing pedestrians, signs, objects, or other vehicles.
Seniors can also have a readily observable decline in physical abilities that could interfere with safe driving. Perhaps arthritic joints or other conditions donâ€™t allow for the full range of motion required to operate a vehicle any longer. He or she may no longer get the physical activity needed to keep strong and flexible for the quick reactions needed for driving.
Vision is obviously a key component of driving ability, and age changes the way our eyes function. Our peripheral vision narrows, the retina becomes less sensitive to light and our ability to focus diminishes. Older eyes are also more prone to cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other vision impairments.
Over one third of adults over 65 suffer from some form of hearing loss. Poor hearing can compromise the ability to hear horns, screeching tires, sirens, and other sounds that would ordinarily alert someone to a potentially dangerous situation.
Medications that seniors take can also significantly impair driving. Side effects of many drugs compromise driving ability by causing drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, or tremors. Others can also cause your loved one to be distracted or unable to concentrate sufficiently to pay attention to road conditions or other hazards.
As a caregiver, taking the keys away from your senior may be one of the most difficult things you ever have to do. But if you suspect that your loved one is a danger to him or herself or others on the road, donâ€™t wait for a serious accident to happen before you intervene. Here are some practical ways to assess your senior loved oneâ€™s driving abilities.
- Take several drives with your senior at the wheel. Be an objective observer of his or her demeanor. Is he or she tense, easily irritated by other drivers or does he or she tire more after driving? If so, then your senior may be having some anxiety about driving.
- Is your senior reluctant to drive places, especially at night? Perhaps you senior is becoming aware of his or her own limitations. Ask him or her about it.
- Do you find that his or her reaction time to traffic lights or other diving cues has slowed?
- Is he or she aware of the driving environment? Does he or she tailgate, let the car drift close to the centerline? Do you hear complaints of getting lost more than you used to?
- Walk around his or her car and look for signs of damage that could indicate driving mishaps. If you find more damage than the occasional grocery cart ding, ask him or her to tell you about them.
- Have you observed questionable driving? Ask about any recent tickets for violations or ask if his or her car insurance rate have increased recently.
- Finally, check in with trusted friends or neighbors of your loved one to inquire about his or her driving. They may have observed problems but are reluctant to tell you for fear of invading your loved oneâ€™s privacy. Once you break the ice and ask, they may want to help you keep your senior safe.
Age is not an absolute predictor of driving ability but as a caregiver itâ€™s important to recognize its impacts on what ultimately counts on the roadâ€”performance.
â€śHow to Talk to Elderly Adults about Giving Up the Keys,â€ť by Connie Matthiessen, Senior Editor, www.Caring.com.
â€śFive Risk Factor for Older Drivers,â€ť by Connie Matthiessen, Senior Editor, www.Caring.com.
â€śEight Waysto Assess Your Parentâ€™s Driving,â€ť by Connie Matthiessen, Senior Editor, www.Caring.com.
â€śOlder Driver Safety: Warning Signs and Knowing When to Stop,â€ť by Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., Monika White, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson. www.helpguide.org/elder/senior_citizen_driving.htm.
Posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 at 1:59 pm and filed under Senior Driving
Whether we are going to the grocery store, the doctorâ€™s office, the golf course or to visit a friend, the ability to drive provides us a sense of independence. But as we age, we lose (some of us more gradually than others) physical and mental capabilities essential to safe driving, such as vision, hearing, mental acuity, muscle strength and dexterity.
There likely will come a time when, for safetyâ€™s sake, we have to give up driving. Until then there are ways to compensate for some of the changes that come with aging and to continue to drive safely. These include refresher driving courses for seniors, provided by driving schools, through senior citizen centers and healthcare providers. One example is DriveOn (www.driveonrocs.org), a program of the Rochester (NY) Rehabilitation Center that combines driving skills evaluation with training.
A Car That Fits
Driving a car with senior-friendly features can make a big difference. The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the National Older Driver Research and Training Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville recommend cars that have such features as adjustable pedals, power-operated seats, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, four doors and an accommodating entry height, large or wide-angle mirrors, brake assist, lumbar support, adjustable seatbelts, keyless entry and start, and stability control.
A program called CarFitÂ® (www.car-fit.org) provides seniors free 15-minute car â€śfittingsâ€ť to determine whether they can be comfortably and safely seated in their car in relation to mirrors, the steering wheel, headrest, pedals and controls. The program was developed by the American Society on Aging in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association. A trial of the program found that 37 percent of participating seniors had at least one critical safety issue. Ten percent did not have proper spacing between the steering wheel and their chest. About 20 percent did not have adequate line of sight over the steering wheel.
Retiring from Driving
Just as we make plans to retire from workâ€”possibly transitioning from full-time to part-time employment before full retirementâ€”it is important to look ahead to retiring from driving. In fact, many seniors choose to limit their driving as they encounter physical and cognitive changes. For instance, they may decide to drive only in daylight when vision impairment makes night-time driving difficult. Or they may decide to drive only in town when high-traffic situations become stressful.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported in a recent study that more seniors are self-limiting their driving and surmises that this could account in part for another finding: Fewer drivers 70 and older died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions from 1997 through 2006 than in years past, even though this segment of the population grew 10 percent.
It is essential that family and friends of a senior approach with compassion a discussion about driving â€”being sensitive to the seniorâ€™s need to maintain independence. Also approach the subject from a concern for the seniorâ€™s and othersâ€™ safety.
Easing the Transition
Seniors often fear that when they give up the keys they give up their lifestyle, being able to see friends, go shopping and take part in other activities they enjoy. Family and professional caregivers can help make the transition from driving seem less threatening to independence by offering workable options. This could be as simple as taking a parent on a once-a-week outing for recreation and errands, coordinating other transportation or arranging for delivery of groceries and other needed goods.
In-home care providers like Comfort KeepersÂ® also provide seniors transportation to activities, doctorâ€™s appointments and shopping, as part of their in-home services.
When it comes to a senior who is reluctant to limit or stop driving, despite obvious danger signs, a second opinion from an authority or the counsel of a respected friend, such as a pastor, may be helpful. A friend who has already given up driving can offer the reassuring voice of experience.
Many motor vehicle bureaus offer assessment services for elderly drivers. The seniorâ€™s physician may also provide an evaluation and a prescription to cease driving due to safety concerns.
As a last resortâ€”particularly for those who cannot remember that they are not supposed to driveâ€”taking away the keys and removing the car or disabling it may be the only solution.