Driving helps older adults—persons 65 and older—stay mobile and independent. However, as we age, declines in vision and cognition (ability to reason and remember), and physical changes may affect driving. Certain medical problems such as heart disease, dementia, sleep disorders, and limited hearing and vision place older adults at an increased risk of car crashes. Additionally, medicines, both prescription and over the counter, such as those used for sleep, mood, pain, and/or allergies among others may affect driving safety.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) believes that occupational therapy practitioners have the skills to evaluate a person’s overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and provide rehabilitation, if necessary. Many are specially trained in the full scope of driving rehabilitation. Occupational therapy practitioners work with older adults as well as their families and caregivers, offering individualized assessment. They can identify individuals’ unique challenges and find strategies that will help them live life to its fullest by keeping them active, healthy, and safe in their communities.
Although there are natural changes that may occur in our brains and to our bodies as we age, the question of when it is time to limit or stop driving is not about age. It’s about the ability of the driver. To this end, observing the driving of the loved one about whom you are concerned and looking for warning signs of unsafe driving is a great first step in determining whether it’s time to talk to them about hanging up the keys. As we all know, driving ability goes beyond the simple ability to physically operate a vehicle. Safely driving a vehicle requires physical and cognitive capabilities, driving skills and good driving behavior.
If you’ve noticed that your loved one shows some of these warning signs, it means it is time to talk with them. First, it’s important to remember that limiting or stopping driving is a complex and emotionally charged discussion. Older drivers have a lifetime of driving experience behind them and deeply value the independence and mobility that driving provides. Preparing for the conversation can help guide you through what steps to take. Beyond providing you with tools to begin a casual conversation about driving and tips on engaging an older driver in self-evaluation, We can also help you with possible solutions for your loved one’s transportation needs — helping your loved one maintain their independence and relieving some of the pressure on you as the caregiver.
Decisions about your ability to drive should never be based on age alone. However, changes in vision, physical fitness and reflexes may cause safety concerns. By accurately assessing age-related changes, you can adjust your driving habits to remain safe on the road or choose other kinds of transportation. If you’ve noticed changes in your vision, physical fitness, attention and reaction time, it’s important to keep alert to how these changes may be affecting your ability to drive safely.
One way to stay safe while driving is by making sure you understand how medical conditions can impact your ability to drive safely. Another way is by adapting your motor vehicle to make sure it fits you properly, as well as choosing appropriate features, installing and knowing how to use adaptive devices, and practicing good vehicle maintenance.