Everyone wants elders to remain healthy and active. We want them to have the freedom of movement and independence that driving represents in our society. On the other hand, most of us are also aware, through our own experience or media accounts, of difficulties that arise with older drivers. ElderCare Solutions offers some insights about elders and driving.
Vehicle driving requires significant abilities that may fail as we grow older. Poor eyesight and hearing, slowing physical reflexes, mental distraction and loss of memory can be caused by aging and do interfere with safe driving.
Older people drive fewer miles overall, as they cut down on highway driving and confine their routes to local traffic. But, when they encounter visually confusing intersections, signs, signals and situations, elders also face more “dangers per mile” than those who rack up many highway miles.
The challenge of our society is to remove unsafe elder drivers from the roads without denying safe, qualified drivers. Drivers’ tests help. In Illinois, drivers can renew their licenses for 4 years between ages 69 and 80; up to the age of 86, they can renew for 2 years; after 87 years the license needs to be renewed annually. While older drivers often restrict their own driving by limiting distances traveled and nighttime conditions, at times it becomes necessary to approach an elder about driving safety.
Short of revoking someone’s driver’s license, there are many ways to improve driving safety. Eyeglass and hearing adjustments can be simple remedies. Changes in medication may increase concentration and focus. Regular physical exercise can improve attention and reaction time. Extra mirrors and seat adjustments in the car may improve visibility and safety.
Refresher courses directed toward older drivers reinforce safe driving practices. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers courses to teach older people how to adjust driving habits to compensate for declining skills. The National Safety Council also offers courses for elders.
Older drivers, not unlike younger people, may become offended when their driving ability is questioned. When family members believe an elder’s driving is unsafe, the assistance of a physician is very helpful. A physician can order a professional driving evaluation to provide an expert assessment and lend authority to the decision. Such an evaluation, when ordered by a physician, is covered by Medicare.
For an elder whose driving is denied or restricted, family members can help to identify alternative social contacts, as well as alternative means of transportation. They can recognize the normal reactions of anger and grief when mobility is limited. Senior centers, park districts and local townships are resources for community activities and low cost transportation services.
Thoughtful action by family members will ease an elder’s transition from driver to non-driver, ensure the elder’s safety and bring the entire family peace of mind.