Driving safety is an important obligation for all drivers. Sometimes disease or advanced age affects driving abilities. If a senior’s driving raises concerns, approach the matter compassionately to preserve the person’s dignity and keep them and others safe, recommends a geriatric specialist with the Harris County Hospital District.
A decision to stop driving for a senior can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, affecting the person’s mental state and overall well-being.
“Aging is a process where so many things are lost. Part of what seniors try to hold onto is their independence — the independence to make decisions about their health, their future and their driving. To them, driving is more than a way to get from one place to another,” says Dr. Kavon Young, Silver Seniors Clinics, Harris County Hospital District.
Losing the ability to drive can be a big blow to self-esteem to a senior and could trigger depression, anxiety and loneliness. In some cases, seniors may feel isolated and not want to keep up with their medical care, she adds.
Seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of America’s population. Making a decision to limit or restrict driving should not be taken lightly.
“A lot of factors and family participation go into discussing driving with seniors because the goal is maintain their dignity in the process. These are adults and should be treated as such,” says Young, also an assistant professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston.
If worried about the ability of a loved one to drive safely, the ideal situation is to talk to them early about driving and safety concerns. Young suggests being open and honest to help when decisions like driving are determined. While most seniors will limit their driving if they don’t feel safe, some may not be aware of deficits in vision or memory and will not self-limit.
Signs that driving could be an issue include:
• Longer drive times for short distances
• Not obeying traffic signs
• Forgetting destinations or locations
• Hitting curbs
• Being angry or anxious when driving
Driving a vehicle requires full use of senses like hearing and sight, as well as good muscle coordination of hands and feet. Any impairment like tremors, a loss of hearing or memory impairment could prove to be dangerous for the individual and others on the road.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a total of 4,139 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, representing a 4 percent increase from the previous year.
However, the same report shows a 42 percent decrease in fatalities per capita among older people since 1975.
“Start the discussion early and agree that you won’t make a decision based on one particular event. Having this agreement will take the pressure off the senior. Sometimes, family members or caregivers get upset and decide to stop all driving privileges, which can be traumatic for the senior,” Young says.
Tips for easing driving privileges for seniors include:
• Limit drives to short distances
• Drive only to familiar places
• Avoid driving at night
• Avoid driving during bad weather
• Build a chauffeur list with family, friends or church members
To find a driver evaluation program to determine driving ability for a senior in your area, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.