Americans love their cars — and that’s a love affair that extends from the youngest drivers to the oldest. Unfortunately, these two groups also account for a high percentage of auto accidents.
It is predicted that more than 25 percent of all automobile accidents will be caused by individuals older than 65 by 2030. A number of factors can hinder seniors’ driving capabilities such as medications, sleep and memory loss. Caregivers often see these signs and begin to wonder if it’s time for their favorite senior to hang up the car keys, but are concerned about how to initiate this discussion. When they do, seniors may be in denial about the safety risk they may pose, and resist giving up the car keys.
This sort of resistance is to be expected as seniors connect the loss of driving with a loss of independence or freedom. There are different ways to approach your senior about considering a comprehensive evaluation and driving safety. I like to recommend that caregivers speak with the senior’s physician to enlist his/her support.
Paying special attention to the warning signs can make the difference in the safety of your senior and other drivers. Major warning signs include medical conditions, loss of peripheral vision or depth perception and a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
If the symptoms are hard to detect, there are additional resources for a more comprehensive evaluation to test their driving ability. Specially trained occupational therapists from the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) and American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offer similar evaluative services and address the individual’s needs.
A thorough driving evaluation consists of both clinical and on-the-road driving tests. The clinical evaluation includes a variety of cognitive, visual and physical assessments. While some elements of the clinical test may seem unrelated to driving, they’re actually closely related to skills necessary to operating a vehicle.
Vision tests will likely cover depth perception, peripheral vision and visual spatial skills. In addition, the cognition portion will determine patient’s ability to follow instructions at the speed with which the brain reacts. It is important to predict if the brain can process information quickly enough to help older drivers react to unexpected events on the road.
After completing the clinical portion, drivers will be evaluated on how they handle a car. Driving tasks will measure how well the driver can solve problems, overall judgment and traffic safety. Finally, the physician will provide a detailed oral or written report discussing the driver’s strengths and weaknesses. In most cases, occupational therapists will help seniors develop a plan based on their individual goals. The plan will confirm whether or not the individual should continue driving.
If seniors or their caregivers are concerned, I recommend consulting a trusted physician for guidance. It is important to decide as a family when may be an appropriate time to discuss driving safety with your senior. Although it may be difficult to initiate the conversation, with the help of professionals you can better communicate your concerns. Also, a strong support community for your senior will help ease the transition and make it less stressful.