Any checklist for aging parents should include a review of safety: home safety, medications/health, and issues like senior driving safety.
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 the Beyond Driving With Dignity Program 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. Raleigh Geriatric Care Management offers the Beyond Driving With Dignity Program.
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.
At Raleigh Geriatric Care Management the geriatric care manager is a Certified Beyond Driving With Dignity Professional and offer driving assessment to assist with possible cessation and retirement or continuation of driving.