Driving Safely, Aging Gracefully
Losing the Ability to Drive Can Take an Emotional Toll
As time goes by, the independence offered by having a vehicle may be jeopardized by deteriorating health, which can affect the ability of some seniors to drive. Seniors who have a driver's license may suffer from conditions that could make maneuvers such as those required to make sharp turns or to merge with heavy traffic particularly difficult or may take medications that may slow reaction time by that fraction of a second needed to avoid a collision.
As the population ages, a majority of older Americans maintain their driving skills, while some are faced with the dilemma of what to do about declining ability. In some states they are forced at a certain age to prove their ability by retaking the driving test.
Research suggests that some men continue to operate beyond their capabilities while women tend to withdraw from vehicle operation prematurely. Also, many older drivers compensate for age-related health limitations by driving shorter distances and avoiding night driving, busy highways and downtown areas, however, sometimes a senior may not realize that certain health issues can even make this limited driving unsafe.
How do friends and loved ones keep their seniors safe while driving, or help them keep their sense of freedom and independence should it be time to give up driving?
How should friends and loved ones approach the topic?
Start by gathering facts about keeping your senior mobile by balancing safety concerns and concern for individual dignity and autonomy.
The common aging factors which affect driving are:
loss of visual acuity
changes in physical strength
slower reaction time
When is it time for your senior to stop driving?
Other drivers honk at them frequently
They get lost on familiar roads
Thoughts wander or they are unable to concentrate while driving
A series of minor collisions or near misses
Family, friends or police have spoken to them about their driving
There are some alternatives available so that your senior does not lose a sense of freedom by having their drivers license revoked. Some state DMV's have created tailored licenses programs to cover the driving an older person can still safely perform. For example, a driver may be restricted to certain areas that include the grocery store, doctor's office or church, but not be allowed on freeways or to do night driving. Some states or local governments provide mature driving classes to help boost confidence of seniors while driving.
If it is inevitable that your senior lose their drivers license, and they must depend on the availability and willingness of family, friends or public transportation, this may cause emotional problems. If mobility is not easily available and accessible, there is the danger that the non-driver will simply "drop out," and become isolated. There are also other wonderful public programs available to help keep seniors mobile. Keeping older people mobile means helping them stay mentally and physically healthy.
In order to help a parent, senior friend or senior loved one, you’ve got to be prepared. Getting involved early and having something to bring to the table when you have that discussion is very important. So, adult children shouldn’t come just with their emotion and their outburst, they need to come with some facts. Contact a geriatric care manager or company that specializes in senior services to assist. Many of these companies are particularly skilled in finding services and programs geared towards seniors such as the programs listed above.