Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Seniors and Driving Safety

Seniors and Driving, Home Care in Minneapolis, Home Care in Bloomington, Eldercare at Home, Elderly Home Assistance, Caregiving Elderly, Senior Home AssistanceAs a senior was driving down the freeway, his cell phone rang.  Answering, he heard his wife’s voice urgently warning him, “Herman, I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way on Interstate 494.  Please be careful!”

“Heck,” said Herman, “it’s not just one car—it’s hundreds of them!”

I’m sure you just got a chuckle out of that little joke, but maybe you wouldn’t if this scenario had happened to your loved one!  Driving is serious stuff.

Seniors equate independence with having a vehicle (whether it’s in good, running condition or not) and the ability to drive it where and when they want.  They may even make a little money on the side by offering rides to other seniors who can no longer drive.  Mention that you have concerns about your loved one’s driving abilities and be ready . . . you may have just started World War III!

As people age, there is an increased likelihood that they will experience changes in vision, memory, and other physical and cognitive characteristics that may challenge their ability to continue to drive safely.

What can you, as concerned family members, do?

Share your concerns with other family members.  You will find out in short order whether or not you are the only one concerned about your loved one’s driving.  You may hear things that you did not know and be able to make a more convincing case for your loved one to consider giving up driving.

Insist on taking the wheel if you are in the car with someone whose driving makes you uncomfortable, especially if there are other passengers. If the driver knows you feel unsafe enough to take the wheel, he or she may be more willing to consider giving up driving.  It’s always best if people can come to this conclusion on their own.  Many times, after a close call, my clients tell me that they decided to give up driving because they were afraid of hurting someone else and could not live with themselves if that happened.

affordable home care assisted home care services for seniors home help for the elderly home assistance elder care in Minnesota private pay home careConsult with an occupational therapist or family physician if you have concerns about your loved one’s driving. They will be able to direct you to places where your loved one’s driving abilities can be objectively assessed.  Clinical driving assessments use multiple types of equipment that evaluate vision, reaction time, cognition, judgment, problem-solving abilities, safety, strength, coordination, visual attention, and processing.  An actual “On the Road” test is also part of a thorough assessment and would include the person’s ability to comply with state traffic laws, safe driving practices, scanning and observation techniques, and management of multiple distractions.

Ask the person having trouble with driving to make an appointment for a full evaluation of his or her skills. Sometimes this is a great way to solve a dispute about this issue.  You can both agree to accept whatever the assessment shows. If someone else (an objective party) tells him he can’t drive and why, you won’t have to do it—that way you can be emotionally supportive and understanding rather than being the villain.

Help your loved one find alternative means of transportation—nonmedical senior care agencies, buses, taxicabs, community vans, Metro Mobility, friends, and family. They may be anxious about learning to use some of these alternative methods of getting around, so offer to go with them the first time or until they feel comfortable.  Some insurance companies arrange for rides to medical appointments.

Assist the person who is no longer able to drive to identify and engage in meaningful activities that do not require driving.

Set up a regular schedule to help them with shopping and errands after they can no longer drive.  If you live a distance away or are unable to do that for other reasons, consider hiring the services of a nonmedical home care agency that could provide a caregiver to take the person out for necessary trips or social activities on the days and times the person would like to go.

 

Sometimes an assessment will reveal that the person can still drive with certain restrictions, such as not during rush hour, not at night, within a 5-mile radius of home, etc.  Sometimes if the vehicle can be adapted for the person’s physical limitations, they may also be able to continue to drive for awhile longer.  Adaptations could include a left foot gas pedal or hand controls.

It helps to be empathetic with a person who can no longer drive.  Remember, it’s not the actual driving itself that is most bothersome to someone who can longer do it.  It’s what the driving represents—freedom, independence, and autonomy.

Julie Ellingson, LSW

January 31, 2012


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