Honk, honk, Speed it up!! Move over! Who still drives with both hands on the steering wheel? Get in the right lane! Who is letting you still drive?
Driving is independence. Who does not want independence? However, what is the yardstick of awareness that affects the ability of older adults to drive safely? Driving restrictions must be in place if the functional abilities and mobility needs of an older driver are known.
While exploring research on older adults and seniors with health challenges that drive, especially in the United States for individuals aged 65 years and older, motor vehicle crashes occur more than we would like to believe. Many of the fatal crashes are from older seniors in their 80s. Older men have a higher rate of traffic accidents than females and most accidents occur close to their homefront.
One yardstick to consider is cognition, instinctive reflex, alertness, and dexterity. Each of these is required while driving. Looking both ways, turning the head to look behind, and reacting in a timely manner to traffic lights and bad drivers are of most importance while behind the wheel. Solid decision-making is vital when driving. Impairment of any kind is a recipe for potential crashes and if we add medications to the mix, the chances of a crash increase.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO and WHEN DO WE DO IT?
Start with an assessment of your loved one or care recipient. Their evaluation of themselves will always differ from yours. Why? They want to hold on to their independence. Driving offers independence and it is hard to give it up. Just put yourself in the shoes of an older adult with limitations and mobility issues to know that, empathy while a hard decision, is critical. Knowing the progression of health and medical conditions is worthwhile information and can help with decision-making.
Consider the restrictions that are creating concern for driving. Is visual/ physical/mobility issues of concern? Is medical/mental/cognitive concerns present? What stages are they in? If you cannot reason with someone who wants to continue to drive, it’s a red flag to the ability to drive safely. There are many stories of seniors that confuse the brake pedal for the gas pedal or disregard traffic rules or street signs. In most states, after a certain age, driving tests and eye tests are required. This may end license renewal for some loved ones.
As Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate, the concern of unsafe driving in older adults involves so many possibilities regarding driving hazards that can lead to crashes. Let me just mention as well, that weather and time of day can be problematic. The goal is to guide older adults on how to remain safe drivers for as long as possible. Communication should be ongoing to avoid an abrupt stop to independence. We all know that it is hard to give up the things we love. Be safe! Be well!