Seniors and Driving

Warning signs to watch for and how to gently approach the discussion to retire from driving

By Alison Stanton

As people get older, a number of issues can affect their ability to drive safely.

“The natural aging process can impact a wide variety of areas related to driving, and this process is different for all of us,” says Jenny Nordine, an occupational therapist and certified driver rehabilitation specialist with Driving to Independence.

While Jenny has seen people in their 80s still doing  a great job behind the wheel, health issues like declines in night vision, macular degeneration, cognition and memory problems, a decline in strength and muscle mass and/or slow decision making can all come into play and cause someone to have difficulty driving.

“Family members and friends of older adults should be aware of the many warning signs that people should probably park their car permanently,” Jenny says.

“A good example is when Mom comes back home and is exhausted after her drive, even first thing in the morning. Fatigue often results from stress,” she says. “Other red flags are when an older parent says something like ‘You know, other drivers always seem to be honking out there,’ or if you spot dings in the car or on one side of the garage where they hit the stucco.”

All states currently have some form of a medical review program, which Jenny says can help determine if older adults should still be behind the wheel. For example, if someone has a diagnosis like a stroke or Parkinson’s disease, the physician is required to fill out a Physical Examination Report with the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles.

As for how to approach an older driver about the possibility of giving up the keys, Jenny advises broaching the potentially touchy topic with solutions in mind.

“When recommending driving retirement for people, have a guide that shows transportation resources, or let them know about a friend or other local person who they can count on for grocery shopping,” Jenny says, adding that sometimes seniors may be reluctant to ask for help.

“Tell mom that you or someone else will be there at 2 p.m. every other Tuesday and will help her for three hours to do anything she needs to do, from going to lunch to doctor’s appointments.”

Appealing to the older driver’s desire to save money can also be helpful.

“Many older folks are very careful with their money, so you can talk about the economics of owning the vehicle and how they might be able to get $5,000 if they sold it—in addition to saving on gas, maintenance and insurance.”

For additional help and information, Jenny suggests reading the “Clinician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling the Older Driver,” available available online at bit.ly/DrivingforSeniors. NOTE: This link is case sensitive.

For information about local transportation resources, contact Northwest Valley Connect at 623-282-9300 or northwestvalleyconnect.org.

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