A new scratch on the bumper or avoiding activities that require leaving home are often the first signs that families should talk with their aging parents about driving. Unfortunately, those conversations are not happening enough.
The Older Drive Initiative of the American Occupational Therapy Association notes that discussing driving with aging loved ones reduces their discomfort around limiting or stopping their driving, but families are reluctant because they don't know how to start the dialogue.
For many seniors, giving up driving equates to the loss of their independence, sparking feelings of anger, anxiety and loneliness. The ability to drive gives seniors the freedom to do what they want, when they want.
Nearly 90 percent of aging adults rely on their cars and driving to stay independent. However, having a license to drive doesn't mean someone is a safe driver.
It is critical for families to have a plan in place before a medical or cognitive condition makes it no longer safe for their senior loved one to get behind the wheel.
10 warning signs seniors might be unsafe drivers on the road
- Mysterious dents. If an older adult can't explain what happened to his or her car, or you notice multiple instances of damage, further investigation is needed to understand if there's been a change in the senior's driving abilities.
- Trouble turning to see when backing up. Aging might compromise mobility and impact important movements needed to drive safely.
Fortunately, newer vehicles offer back-up cameras and assistive technologies that can help older adults continue to drive safely.
- Confusing the gas and brake pedals. Dementia can lead to a senior being confused about how his or her car operates.
- Increased irritation and agitation when driving. Poor health or chronic pain can trigger increased agitation that might, in turn, lead to poor judgment on the road.
- Bad calls on left-hand turns. Turning left can be tricky and dangerous for older drivers, and many accidents occur where there is an unprotected left turn (no turning arrow).
- Parking gone awry. Difficulty parking, including parallel parking, could cause damage to an older adult's vehicle as well as to those around it.
- Difficulty staying within the lanes. If you've spotted a driver zigzagging along the road, it could be a sign that fatigue or vision problems are making it difficult to stay on course.
- Delayed reaction and response time. Aging slows response times, which might create a situation where an older adult might cause an accident or be unable to respond quickly enough to prevent a crash.
- Driving the wrong speed. Driving too fast or too slow might be indicators that a driver's judgment might be impaired.
- Riding the brake. Riding the brake could be a sign that a driver no longer has confidence in his or her skills.
To access the Safe Driving Planner, or to view other program resources and tips, visit www.LetsTalkAboutDriving .com. For help in how to begin a discussion about driving, visit www.caregiverstress.com, then choose caregiver resources, family communication issues, 40/70 rule.
Rachel Carson, Certified Senior Advisor, is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care serving the Lowcountry since 1997.