Senior Health and Wellbeing | March 1, 2016
A caring.com and National Safety Council survey showed that 40 percent of adult children say they’re not comfortable talking to their parents about driving, and would rather discuss funeral arrangements or selling their home.
Every caretaker whether a child, spouse, niece, nephew or a paid caregiver, dreads the time when their loved one has to stop driving. This is a painful reminder that age is taking its toll, and more often than not, the conversation isn’t a pleasant one.
Seniors are usually reluctant to give up driving. Taking the car keys removes their own ability to drive to the store, church, senior center, or library ─ or to simply meet up with friends for coffee. The experience can be quite traumatic.
Remember: Age is just a number. A senior’s age is not reason enough for taking away the car keys. There are people in their 90s who drive safely, while others decades younger can be a real danger to themselves and others.
The fact is, people age differently. Several factors place seniors at much greater risk for road accidents and affect seniors’ driving ability, including:
Cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy can hamper driving ability. (Cataracts and glaucoma can be surgically corrected.) Poor depth perception, narrowed peripheral vision, poor judgment of speed, poor night vision, and increased sensitivity to bright sunlight, headlights, and glare can all become problems with age.
Driving takes dexterity, ability, and strength to control a vehicle at all times. Range-of-motion issues, such as inability to look over the shoulder, trouble shifting gears, or confusing gas and brake pedals can be a problem. Drowsiness may also occur in older adults, even during the day.
Those with Alzheimer’s disease can become disoriented anywhere, and a severe diabetic may fall into a coma. Rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, and heart disease can impair seniors’ driving ability and skills.
Older people often take more medications. This can result in risky, unpredictable and dangerous side effects and drug interactions that cause drowsiness and/or a slowing of the person’s reaction time. The senior’s doctor(s) can discuss side effects and a pharmacist may be able to do a quick computer-based analysis.
According to the National Institute on Aging, there are several critical indications that a senior may be losing the judgment or ability to drive. These are:
Talking to a senior about the need to stop driving is one of the most difficult discussions you may ever face, and there may be resistance. However, it’s better to get advice from someone familiar than by an order from a judge or the DMV. Harriet Vines, author of Age Smart: How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy suggests the following:
Research other available transportation. Call the local Area Agency on Aging for ideas ─ and talk to your family members about being volunteer drivers. Also, help the senior make a schedule. He or she can plan activities and combine trips on days when a caregiver can drive.
Involve the senior in the conversation. You may find a positive reaction when talking honestly about your care and concern for their safety. A person 70 or older involved in a car accident is more likely to be seriously hurt, require hospitalization, or die than a younger person involved in the same crash.
If a senior is still capable of driving, suggest enrollment in a driving refresher course. These courses cover the concerns of the mature driver, teaching you how to stay safe, drive defensively, and avoid high-risk situations.
You can learn more about these courses on the CAA website.
Comfort Keepers® Can Help. Our Interactive Caregiving™ keeps senior clients engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally while living independently at home. One of our many Companionship Services can include help with transportation. Call your local office today to find out more.