Any checklist for aging parents should include a review of safety: home safety, medications/health, and issues like senior driving safety. Many older drivers maintain excellent driving skills and make adjustments to ensure safety. My grandfather (pictured right with his red corvette) taught the AARP senior driving safety course for many years and helped other seniors to make adjustments and update driving skills. As AARP’s site states, “Some drivers age 50+ have never looked back since they got their first driver’s licenses, but even the most experienced drivers can benefit from brushing up on their driving skills”.
Though older drivers in general are safe drivers, age-related changes can affect driving abilities and this can be deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that on the basis of estimated annual travel, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and over is nine times as high as the rate for drivers 25 through 69 years old. Some drivers realize and acknowledge these changes, while others struggle with this transition/loss. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, men will live an average of 6 years longer than they can drive and women, 10 years. As our population ages, more and more families will face this issue and need help with the transition and identifying alternatives.
So, what should you do as an adult child who cares for an aging driver? What functional skills are needed and what red flags should cause concern?
- Drive with your aging parent and observe. This is one of the best ways to spot red flags. How is your elder parent’s reaction time? Does he/she miss signs? If you ask to go to a new spot or provide directions does this cause trouble?
- Check car maintenance. Ask your parent when they have the oil changed, get the care checked out. Not all of us are good at this at any age, but this may be a sign that an aging parent can no longer handle the many tasks related to driving and auto upkeep.
- Suggest an AARP or other safe driving course. As mentioned, many things have changed with cars and traffic, so even the best driver can benefit. This may also help an aging parent come to the realization that they should not drive any more.
- Talk to a professional care manager if you feel like you need an outside assessment, help talking through/mediating about the issue and especially, a plan for post-driving.
Red flags to watch for regarding senior driving safety:
- Your parent is very cautious when driving and has narrowed driving down to only familiar locations and/or seems very nervous when driving (all of these accommodations can be good, but also indicate that your parent feels unsure and any changes could become a real issue…i.e. what would your parent do if a road was closed or something unexpected happened on the road?).
- Your parent’s friends refuse to go along in the car with him/her.
- Your parent has unexplained dents in the car or has small fender-benders or hits stationary objects.
- Memory issues or dementia are present. Many people with early dementia or cognitive issues do not immediately give up driving and may not need to, but this is an issue to watch closely. Driving involves highly complex thinking which is typically compromised with dementia. A driver may remember familiar routes for now, but can be easily confused if anything changes or may do well every day up until the one day he or she gets lost.
- Eye sight, hearing, balance issues or strength are problematic. Again, there may be accommodations for many of these issues, but it is important to assess them and plan for such accommodations.
Families call us frequently to discuss their concerns about an elder’s continued safety driving. We hear a wide variety of stories from families, from a concerned daughter who has just visited Dad and noticed he is driving very poorly to tragic stories of families where loved ones get lost driving or get in to an accident when clearly they should not be driving any longer. Some older drivers willingly give up driving when they do not feel safe, while others struggle with the loss and fight the change.
Aging Wisely’s care managers help families with driving safety issues, through our care management consultations and assessments. We can: help you assess driving safety (and other safety issues as well), counsel and mediate the conversation between you and your loved one, and work with your family to create a post-driving plan by setting up resources such as senior transportation. Contact us at 727-447-5845 or online to talk about how we can help!
Aging Wisely sponsored a series of educational events by “Keeping us Safe” including a professional Driving with Dignity certification course. Keeping Us Safe was created by Matt Gurwell, a retired Ohio highway patrol officer, who is dedicated to helping keep older drivers safe.