Older Drivers and Safety

Posted by in Expert Advice.

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is happening now! From December 3rd through December 7th, the American Occupational Therapy Association is calling attention to different aspects of older driver safety. At Senior Lifestyle we know that the ability to get to appointments, shop for necessities and simply visit friends is vital to the well-being seniors, so we join AOTA in their efforts to raise awareness of this important facet of senior independence.

For many people, obtaining a driver’s license is a symbol of freedom and an outward sign of independence. Unsurprisingly, many older adults feel the same way about retaining their driver’s license. For seniors who live in areas with little or no access to public transportation, the ability to drive provides more than just a symbol of independence; it often serves as a lifeline. This circumstance can make it difficult for families to discuss giving up driving with a senior loved one, as it often necessitates outside help or even a move for the senior. The aim of AOTA’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is to promote understanding of the barriers older adults face when driving is no longer an option, and to increase awareness of the steps older adults can take to remain active, healthy and safe in their communities, whether they drive or not.

A recent Consumer Reports study notes that 40 million Americans aged 65 and older carry a valid driver’s license; 3.5 million of that group are still behind the wheel at age 85 and older. While many drivers are able to manage to the physical requirements of driving well into their senior years, there are some warning signs from Helpguide.org that a senior driver may need to consider giving up the keys:

  • Frequent close calls or increased citations

-A noticeable increase in dents and scrapes on the vehicle

-Traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement

  • Eyesight or hearing problems

-A need to drive closer to signs or traffic signals to see them clearly

-Inability to hear horns honking or emergency sirens

  • Trouble managing the mechanics of driving and limited range of motion, slower reflexes

-Sudden lane changes and erratic braking and accelerating

-Inability to react quickly when necessary to traffic changes

-Lack of range of motion that prevents turning head to look back

If giving up the keys becomes necessary, it’s important to understand the frustration and even humiliation that your senior driver may experience; treating them with respect and dignity while having this difficult conversation is imperative. If a loved one is reluctant to admit that driving is becoming a problem for them, you may need to enlist the help of an impartial person such as their physician. It’s also important to provide alternatives such as public transportation or rides from friends and family members. For some seniors, the loss of this symbol of independence can cause depression; preventing isolation is an important part of the transition as well. At Senior Lifestyle, residents are often surprised and delighted to learn that social opportunities don’t require time behind the wheel; events and activities are always available in the community.

If you notice signs of impaired driving in your loved one, it is vital to have a conversation with them about your concerns; they may be feeling concerned as well, but worried about the logistics of giving up driving, and your efforts to broach the subject may in fact be a relief to the senior driver. Senior Lifestyle communities offer transportation options for residents who choose not to drive or are unable to do so safely. Many of our residents who still drive themselves also choose to take advantage of the transportation option and let someone else do the driving for them on occasion.

For information about transportation options at a Senior Lifestyle community near you, or more information about tackling difficult conversations with your loved one, please visit our website at www.seniorlifestyle.com.

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