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Is It Time to Stop Driving?

IMAGE Mary G., 72, was the primary caretaker and chauffeur for her 78-year-old husband who suffered from declining vision and heart problems. Although Mary was in excellent physical and mental health, she started having small fender-benders on a fairly regular basis.
Mary's family soon noticed the dents and scratches on her car and suggested she have her reflexes tested. When the tests showed some decline in responses, they discussed how she might get along without a car. Mary and her husband decided to sell their suburban house and take an apartment in the city, which offered more public transportation options.

Knowing When to Hang Up the Keys

If you are concerned about your driving ability or your loved one's driving ability, then you may want to ask the following questions:
  • Has there been a pattern of close calls, violations, or minor collisions?
  • Do you have trouble spotting pedestrians, signs, or other objects?
  • Are you surprised by passing cars or do you brake harder than normal for hazards, stop signs, or stopped traffic?
  • Have you gone through red lights or stop signs? Have you backed into or over things or run into curbs?
  • Are you having trouble coordinating hand and foot movements?
  • Is the glare of oncoming headlights causing more discomfort?
  • Do you have trouble turning your head, neck, and shoulders as you back up?
  • Are you more nervous behind the wheel?
  • Do you experience increased anger or frustration while in the car?
  • Are you quickly fatigued from driving?
  • Do you lose your way, even in your own neighborhood?
  • Do you get lost or make poor or slow decisions in traffic?
  • Have you ever hit the accelerator instead of the brake?
  • Are other drivers honking, tailgating, or passing you aggressively?
  • Do you take medication that may impair your driving?
Too many yes answers could mean that you or your loved one may not be able to handle a vehicle in an emergency situation. It isn't a good idea to rely solely on the state agency that tests drivers and issues driver's licenses. Drivers with reflex problems may still be able to squeak by and pass the test.

Checking Driving Ability

To get a better idea of driving skills, rehabilitation centers and insurance companies offer tests that objectively rate driving ability. Moreover, some senior centers, hospitals, retirement communities, and civic organizations offer driver improvement programs for seniors.
The primary care doctor can also let you or your loved one know when it is time to think about giving up the car. The doctor will consider muscle strength, eye sight, reflexes, and general overall health, along with questions about close calls in traffic.

Talking to Your Loved One

If you notice that your loved one's car is getting bumped and dented, it may be a good time to gently assess the situation. Talk about the new dents and scratches that you've noticed on the car and ask what's been happening. Your loved one may be relieved to talk about it.
If early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or dementia become evident, it may be time to get a letter from the doctor, stating that your loved one should not drive for safety reasons.

Getting Around Without a Car

Buses, taxis, and vans operated by senior citizen centers, hospitals, municipal transportation systems, and retirement centers can help your loved one get around. Many seniors also count on family and friends for rides. Dena S., a woman who stopped driving about two years ago has a standing date with her 25-year-old granddaughter.
"She picks me up on Saturday mornings and I have a list of errands that I need to do. We finish up around noon and I take her to lunch. It gives us an opportunity to catch up on family gossip, her life, and it makes me feel young again."
For seniors on a fixed income, giving up the car is also cost effective. When you add up all the costs associated with owning your own car, it is usually much more cost-effective to take a taxi.

Other Factors to Consider Besides Age

Not all seniors need to give up driving, though. The AAA Foundation for Safety points out that age should never be used as the main reason why a person needs to give up driving. A range of other factors, like vision, hearing, and reflexes, should be taken into consideration.

RESOURCES

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety http://www.aaafoundation.org

AARP http://www.aarp.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Ontario Ministry of Transportation http://www.mto.gov.on.ca

References

Drivers 65 plus: suggestions for improvement. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website. Available at: https://www.aaafoundation.org/drivers-65-plus-suggestions-improvement. Accessed October 14, 2013.

How's my driving? Michigan.gov website. Available at: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ElderlyDriving%5F0909%5F84709%5F7.pdf. Accessed October 14, 2013.

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