The topic of older adults and driving can be a contentious one. The ability to hop in your car and go wherever you need to represents independence and freedom. For seniors, it is also linked to self-esteem. Just the idea of starting a conversation about driving with an aging parent can cause great anxiety for adult children. Before you jump in to this conversation, the first step is to determine whether or not your loved one is really at risk driving. In honor of National Older Driver Awareness Week, we are sharing a few resources to assist you in doing so.
How to Assess a Senior Driver’s Abilities
One of the challenges for assessing an older driver’s safety behind the wheel is figuring out what criteria to use. Age alone can’t be the determining factor because everyone ages differently. For seniors who are active and fit, driving may still be safe in to their eighties. By contrast younger seniors who have vision or hearing impairments, mobility problems or take medications that cause side effects such as dizziness might need to hang up the keys much sooner.
What is undeniable are the physical changes caused by aging that can’t be avoided. Slower reflexes mean slower reaction time. Decreased muscle strength and flexibility can also make driving more challenging, especially in rush hour and in big city traffic.
How Can You Objectively Assess Your Aging Parent’s Driving?
Here are a few suggestions to help:
1. Be the passenger: Ride along with your senior loved one a few times. To get a true picture of their safety behind the wheel, do this during daytime rush hour traffic and again after dark. Observe how well they adhere to the written and unwritten rules of the road. Do they drift in and out of their lane? Are they physically able to look over their shoulder before merging? Can they keep up with traffic or are they driving too slowly? Intersections can be especially problematic for someone who is struggling behind the wheel. Pay close attention to how they well they navigate through them.
2. Physical fitness: It can be hard to see a senior loved one’s physical decline when you are with them frequently. For most older adults aging is a gradual process. Try to objectively evaluate how strong your aging loved one is, if they seem to be struggling with flexibility, balance or mobility, and how quickly they react to sudden changes around them. If you have any doubts, it might be time to seek advice from their primary care physician.
3. Check their car: Their car can really tell the tale of how well they are managing driving. Look their car over to detect any dents, scratches or scrapes. Excessive wear and tear might be a sign they are running in to things or getting too close to other cars, curbs and other structures.
4. Interactive Driving Test: AAA developed an online evaluation to objectively assess how safe older drivers are performing behind the wheel. It tests drivers in eight areas considered to be critical for safe driving. The evaluation can be performed entirely online in less than an hour.
We hope these suggestions will help you decide if it is time for your aging loved one to begin using alternate forms of transportation.