The topic of older adults behind the wheel can be provocative. For most of us, maintaining our ability to drive helps us safeguard our independence and our pride. Because we all age differently, a date of birth cannot be the only factor to consider when requiring someone to hand over their car keys. There are, however, undeniable physical changes that happen as we age. They range from loss of flexibility to slower reaction times and problems with vision.
As a caregiver, how do you know when it is time to put the brakes on your loved one’s driving?
Here are a few suggestions that might help you to fairly evaluate how well they perform behind the wheel:
Let them do the driving
Instead of always doing the driving when you are together, let them take the wheel a few times. Driving with them at night is especially important when you are trying to evaluate their skills. How do they handle themselves in traffic? Are they able to turn their head to look in their mirrors and over their shoulder when changing lanes or parking? Do they stay in their own lane or drift over the center line? Are they aware of slower moving objects around them such as bicyclists and pedestrian traffic? Are they keeping up with traffic or creating a hazard by going too slowly? Are they taking the right of way when it isn’t theirs? These are all basic driving behaviors that can put them and others at risk if they don’t measure up.
Check out their car
This is another easy way to assess their driving skills. If their car is full of dents and ding marks, it isn’t a good sign. It likely means they are bumping into other cars while trying to park or pull in to their garage. They may not even realize they are doing it.
Review their medication side effects
Some medications make driving unsafe. It is a good idea to review the side effects of their medications for potential issues or ask their pharmacist if it isn’t clear from the labels.
Schedule a routine physical exam
Their primary care physician can help put your mind at ease or recommend they stop driving based on what they find during a routine physical. Make sure to ask if they can perform a vision and hearing test when you schedule the appointment.
AAA offers this free of charge. You can email them for a free CD or download it from their site. This 30-minute interactive test evaluates drivers’ abilities in eight key areas that range from strength and mobility to visual information processing.
There are many other online resources family caregivers and adult children might find useful. Two of our favorites are:
AARP’s Driver Safety – A comprehensive program that offers families a wide variety of resources ranging from how to start the conversation about driving to vision safety tips.
AAA Senior Driving – Great site where you can find tools and resources that help you locate assistive accessories for an older adult’s car. They include panoramic mirrors, pedal extenders and swivel seat cushions.