Driving is a skill that most of us have had since we were a teenager. As we grow older it is something that continues to be a very regular part of our lives and not something we ever thought could be taken away. Ultimately, driving helps each and every person live an independent life. However, as we get older and we begin to lose our vision, hearing, or develop different conditions – is our driving really still as safe as it used to be?
Here are a few different diseases that can definitely compromise our driving skills;
Parkinson’s disease: which causes tremors, stiff limbs, slower movements, and impaired balance and coordination. These symptoms can make it difficult for a driver to have a fast reaction time.
Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s causes complete mental decline – forgetfulness, confusion, disorientation, delusion, difficulty thinking and understanding. Although these are only a few symptoms these can severely compromise driving abilities. For example, forgetting roads that are commonly travelled on.
Stroke: A stroke can affect one’s mental and physical abilities – such as weakness in one side of the body, trouble with awareness, thinking, and even judgment. These types of symptoms after a stroke are definitely telltale signs that you should not be hitting the road.
Taking certain medicines can also affect driving abilities. For example, taking NyQuil right before a drive home most certainly is not a smart idea. Some medications can make us feel drowsy or even less alert than usual. If you or a loved one takes a prescription medication speak with your doctor about how the medication can affect your driving.
Family and friends of a driving senior should be paying attention to warning signs of unsafe driving. Those signs include: having multiple “almost crashes”, loss of visibility or hearing, driving too fast or slow, bumping into curbs often when making right turns, acquiring traffic tickets or warnings often, frequently getting lost on commonly travelled roads, distracted driving. Family and friends should drive with their seniors on a regular basis to ensure they are safe.
So, you know you need to have this conversation with a loved one… but how do you do it?
Preparation: know why you are having this conversation and ways that your loved one can still get around. Giving up driving does not have to mean giving up independence – explore alternative options of how they can still continue doing the activities they love. There are many options for seniors, and some transportation services even provide discounts for the elderly.
Stick to the facts: instead of telling your loved one that they are no longer a safe driver, express that you are concerned for their driving abilities. Try not to make it about their age and put a big emphasis that ultimately you are concerned for their safety.
Be supportive: this can be very difficult and upsetting but working together with your loved one and you can find solutions together.
It is never easy to take away the car keys and call it quits. However, for the safety of your loved one and those who could potentially be driving around them – it is imperative to monitor their driving skills. According to USA Today, “more than half of adult children of senior drivers – 55% – say they are concerned about their parents’ driving habits”. If there is a slightest bit of concern that could mean it is time to have that conversation. It is never easy but it could potentially save a loved one’s life. At the end of the day it is better to be proactive and be safe rather than sorry.
AARP provides a free online seminar called We Need to Talk that can help you to assess your loved ones’ driving skills. This can definitely be helpful if you are unsure whether your loved one can continue driving.
Rakow, Kyle. “When Should Older Adults Stop Driving?” AARP, AARP, www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/info-2016/when-to-stop-driving-in-older-age.html.
“Older Drivers.” National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers.
Copeland, Larry. “Seniors behind the Wheel: Few Kids Have the Talk.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 29 Sept. 2013, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/29/older-drivers-highway-safety/2875765/.