Through 45 years of driving, Ellen never had an accident. But last month, the 76-year-old was involved in two minor collisions, receiving a traffic citation for one. Ellen worries that she is not as good a driver as she once was. And she has read recent newspaper stories about accidents involving older drivers.
79-year-old Gregory’s children worry that with his poor night vision, it isn’t safe for him to drive at night any more. But Mom doesn’t drive, and the couple doesn’t want to give up the theater or their weekly bridge games with friends.
For most Americans, the automobile represents independence, control and mobility. We couldn’t wait to get our first driver’s license and access to the family car when we were teenagers?and we’d like to keep driving as long as possible. But the normal changes of aging can make driving more challenging. Impediments to safe driving include?
• hearing loss
• vision problems
• decreased reaction time
• memory loss
• limited manual dexterity
• loss of depth perception and peripheral vision
Older adults and their families should assess driving ability periodically, both to determine ways of improving driving skills, and to evaluate whether the individual is still capable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
MAKING CHANGES FOR SAFER DRIVING
There are several good ways seniors can improve driving skills and extend safe driving capability:
• Take a refresher driving course for seniors, such as the “55 Alive Classes” which are offered through insurance companies and senior groups.
• When filling any prescriptions, ask the doctor or pharmacist if the medications have any potential side effects that could hinder the ability to drive.
• Have regular eye examinations.
• Make modifications to the vehicle itself for enhanced driving safety. For example: improved side and rear-view mirrors; a rear-window brake light; a back-up warning buzzer; steering wheel grips; and pedal adjustments.
• If the car is large and difficult to maneuver, consider trading it for a smaller car, which might be easier to handle and park.
• Avoid the most challenging driving situations. If night vision has diminished, schedule car trips during daylight hours. Avoid busy highways and rush hour traffic
IS IT TIME TO GIVE UP THE CAR?
There may come a point when the changes of aging make it difficult and risky to keep driving. Some older drivers become increasingly nervous about their driving ability, and consequently become less mobile in the community. Some keep driving until an incident occurs-a scare, a minor accident, or worse-and then quit driving abruptly, without having made plans for what they will do without the car. And others are in denial, refusing to face up to limitations until family members or the department of licensing step in.
It doesn’t have to be that way. When you first begin to have concerns about driving ability, that is the time to begin planning a post-driving strategy. Think of this as just another aging challenge to be addressed, and then use your best problem-solving skills to keep yourself or your loved one active and mobile.
The first thing to do when considering becoming a non-driver is to add up all the costs of owning and maintaining a car. Car payments, insurance, repairs, gasoline, parking fees-all these should go into your calculation. For most people, the total is considerable. Think of those dollars as money available for alternative transportation.
Once you’ve calculated your “transportation allowance,” begin to investigate the alternatives:
• Bus or rapid transit
• Taxi cabs
• Carpooling with family, friends or volunteers
• Special transportation for seniors and people with disabilities.
With this kind of planning, many seniors lose their anxiety over giving up driving. It still may not be easy, but having a workable plan for getting around is a major step forward. If a loved one is resisting giving up driving, be creative in your approach. You might try suggesting that your loved one:
• Leave the car in the garage for a while and see how he or she gets along not using it.
• Set a trial period during which your loved one will try out transportation options.
• Consider giving the car as a gift to a favorite charity or to a grandchild.
• Investigate selling the car and setting the money aside for a transportation fund.
Help your loved one make a plan for being a non-driver if that time comes. Be proactive; don’t wait for circumstances to make decisions for you. Giving your loved one an extra margin of safety is the right thing to do for other drivers on the road, and it can, above all, be a gift to your loved one, yourself and family!
(c)2008 IlluminAge Communication Partners