Seniors and Driving | Senior Living Link

Donna Mae Scheib

Seniors and Driving

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on December 10, 2021

Seniors and Driving

Assessing Physical and Mental Changes, Additional Thoughts

Driving is yet another change when people age. It is always important to drive safely or it may be necessary to find other viable options to meet mobility needs.  Let’s look at some of the changes that can affect the ability to drive safely especially as people age and also what can be done to continue to drive as safely as possible. This will be followed by a discussion about the importance of keeping your loved ones connected to the community despite their inability to drive someday.

First, assess if there are any physical changes affecting the senior’s driving.
  • Eyesight

Can they read the street signs and highway signs easily? Are they able to see other cars and vehicles, pedestrians walking and people biking, and any street markings at all times of the day and night? Do they handle the headlight glare of oncoming traffic at nighttime and can they see the road with their own headlights on?

Suggestions:

Have a yearly eye exam

If eyeglasses are worn, make sure the prescription is current and get a pair of

    prescription sunglasses as well to help shield your eyes from the glare of the sun

Keep the car headlights, mirrors, and windshield clean

Make sure the headlights are working

Adjust the driver’s seat so the street can be seen at least ten feet in front of their own car

Cut back on both the frequency and duration of driving

  • Physical alertness

Be aware that Do they have any difficulty turning the steering wheel, moving their foot from the brake to the gas pedal, and looking over their shoulder to change lanes?

Do they take too long to turn, stop and start the car, change lanes and pass cars, etc.?

  • Have a yearly physical

Incorporate physical or occupational therapy, medicine, stretching exercises or a

    walking/fitness program to help maintain optimal health

Utilize automatic transmission and power steering and brakes to make the driving easier

Adjust the side mirrors to reduce the side blind spot

Find alternative transportation options if the weather or time of day is not conducive to

     their best driving (e.g., ride-sharing services or public transportation, etc.)

Always wear a seat belt and make sure passengers wear them, too

Look into adaptive technologies (swivel-seat and hand controls) to assist with required

     movement and reaction time

Make helpful purchases (back pillow, portable small plastic step to get in and out of the

     car, etc.)

Cut back on both the frequency and duration of driving

Next, look at any mental challenges that may impact driving.
  • Memory

Are they getting lost around town or on familiar routes? Do they have difficulty following a map or other mapping directions? Have they had any near-accidents, scratches, and dents on their car or recent traffic tickets or violations? Do they routinely drive the speed limit or do they drive too slow or too fast for the designated area? Do they feel overwhelmed by street markings, road signs, and roundabouts while driving? Are they taking any medications that may interfere with safe driving?

  • Take routes that are more familiar

Have a reliable friend or relative ride with them

Avoid rush hour traffic and driving at either dawn or dusk times

Always keep a safe distance from the car in front of you

Be attentive and avoid unnecessary distractions (radio, phone, and excessive

      conversation with passengers)

Review any medications and talk to appropriate medical personnel to ensure that

      their medicine is not adversely affecting their driving ability

Cut back on both the frequency and duration of driving

Additional Thoughts on Older Drivers

State Laws for Older Drivers

Due to the increased physical and mental impairments that many drivers face as they age, most states have passed legislation for additional restrictions and requirements on older drivers. These laws include license renewal requirements, accelerated license renewal terms, and testing mandates. It is advisable to check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for further information and not wait until the normal renewal time stated on the driver’s license. This will help your loved one to be better prepared for the license renewal and testing process and to feel more at ease and confidence going forward.

How to Talk to an Older Person About Driving

Although the subject of driving may be difficult to discuss with your loved one, it is absolutely necessary to have a conversation with them before their driving becomes problematic and even dangerous. Then the conversation undoubtedly will be even more difficult to have. It is also critical to remember that although most people see driving as a sense of independence and they may want to keep driving for as long as they can, safety at the wheel should be at the forefront of any decision to continue the privilege of driving. By being physically and mentally self-aware and by discussing the topic of safe driving, they will be better prepared to drive safely and also accept the fact that they have limitations. 

How to Help the Person Stay Mobile

If driving is no longer permissible, it is important to help the person find other ways to get to appointments and activities as well as to complete errands. The first step is to list the planned activities and errands (e.g., doctor, dentist, classes, social events, religious services, the pharmacy, grocery store, library, etc.). Then you can also make a second list of special events that might happen (e.g., parties, visits to friends and relatives, going out to eat or a movie, etc.). Next, you can help develop a plan of action that will provide transportation alternatives to the planned activities and errands and the special events (e.g., friends and relatives driving, using a taxi or Uber service, ordering groceries and food to be delivered instead, any available public transportation that can be accessed easily, etc.). You can then help organize alternate transportation options on a weekly or monthly basis. Another suggestion would be to provide a gift card or money for some of these transportation alternatives or even ride with your loved one to a few activities or to run errands so they get more accustomed to how to do so. You can also consider hiring a caregiver to accompany them.

In Conclusion

Getting old has many life-changing effects on your physical and mental abilities, and consequently on your lifestyle as well. Monitoring someone’s driving can help them to drive for longer time duration and more safely while doing so until they may have to stop driving completely. Although it may be hard to talk with someone about the impact of aging on their driving ability and specifically their physical and mental limitations, it is vital to have such a conversation. When the time comes for the person to relinquish their driving, then assisting the individual in setting up a plan of action to deal with staying mobile is very valuable. It will allow them to continue integrating into the community, engaging in activities and events, accomplishing necessary errands, and overall maintaining the best quality of life. 

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