Most seniors in Olive Branch and elsewhere would prefer to keep driving indefinitely because it’s a key factor in maintaining their independence. When a senior can no longer drive to the places he/she needs to get to each day, it significantly limits their ability for self-care. While it’s usually true that seniors don’t have as many commitments that require driving around, it’s also true that giving up driving represents a major limitation to their freedom and self-reliance. Part of senior home care involves assessing whether it’s still safe for your senior loved one to continue driving. Seniors are more at risk for declining driving skills than any other age group, in part due to changes in their health, slowed reflexes, and the effects of multiple medications. In this article, we’ll discuss when it might be time to evaluate your senior’s driving skills, and how that should be done when it happens.
Changes that affect a senior’s driving skills
There are quite a few things that can impact a senior’s ability to drive well, so there’s no danger to themselves or others. Here are some of the most common reasons that a senior’s driving skills might diminish with aging:
- vision problems – some seniors experience a reduction in the effectiveness of their vision and fail to make that known to anyone. If vision is blurry or otherwise compromised, it can be very difficult to drive safely around the community.
- arthritis issues – when a person is bothered by arthritis, it can be difficult to turn the neck or head quickly to observe traffic conditions. It could also impact a person’s ability to turn the steering wheel quickly or to instantly apply the brakes so as to avoid a traffic accident.
- hearing issues – anyone who has experienced a loss of hearing might not hear horns from other vehicles, or dangerous sounds emanating from the vehicle they’re driving. This could lead to a serious accident on the roadways, and it could even prove fatal.
- multiple medications – sometimes taking multiple medications can cause interactions between two or more of them, and that could impact the driving skills of a senior. Even a single medication might make a driver feel drowsy, which can significantly impact the driving and safety skills of a senior driver.
- reduced response time from reflexes – it’s no secret that a senior’s reflexes aren’t generally as sharp as they were during youth, and that makes it more difficult to quickly react to dangerous traffic conditions. It’s also possible that a senior might be experiencing a loss of feeling in the toes or fingers, and that too could have a big impact on their ability to quickly make driving changes when needed.
- medical conditions – some seniors suffer from diseases such as Parkinson’s, which can cause shaking or trembling in the extremities. If this happens while driving, it can cause a major degradation of the senior’s ability to drive safely.
When to evaluate senior driving skills
There is no specific age at which a senior should have their driving skills re-tested, because everyone ages differently and everyone will experience a loss of driving skills at a different age. However, there are some signs that can be observed that would tell you it’s time to have your senior loved one’s driving capabilities re-assessed. One of these signs would be when you notice there are some unexplained dents in their vehicle, especially those that they don’t remember incurring. If your loved one gets two or more traffic tickets in the space of a year, that could mean they simply aren’t driving as effectively as they once did. When your senior acquires a new medical condition, this could be a factor that degrades their driving skills, so this would be a good time to evaluate them again. You might also hear comments from friends or neighbors about ‘reckless’ or unsafe driving from your loved one, and this is another red flag that indicates it might be time for an evaluation.
How to evaluate senior driving skills
It’s very easy to have someone’s driving skills checked out by an occupational therapist, a rehab specialist, or a professional driving instructor. There are also online driving assessments that can evaluate your senior’s skills, such as this one from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You might want to enroll your loved one in a driver safety course, and these are offered in every community of every state in the country. The AAA organization makes an online course available called the Roadwise Driver Course that can help a senior adjust to whatever age-related changes have taken place to impact their driving ability. Then too, it’s a good idea to take into account any feedback you receive from friends and neighbors about your senior’s driving and find some tactful way of helping your loved one improve their skills so as to drive more safely.