Conversations to have when determining one’s ability to drive
Car keys are a symbol of freedom, independence, and convenience. But for some they can bring about feelings of stress, worry and danger. The question many caregivers, family members and older adults have is: “When is it no longer safe to drive?”
Statistically, older adults as a group are safe drivers. Compared with drivers of other age groups, drivers over age 65:
• Have fewer accidents.
• Receive fewer alcohol-related violations.
• Receive fewer moving violations.
• Wear their seat belts more consistently.
HEALTH AND DRIVING DECISIONS
Personal driving decisions should take into account more than just these simple statistics. Current medications and changing physical abilities can impact reaction time, decision-making, concentration and perception. The National Institute on Aging recommends that drivers and their families consider the following age-related conditions, their potential impact on driving and driving safety tips (www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers):
• Arthritis can make it more difficult to turn your head, look back or brake quickly. Working with a doctor to manage stiffness and pain, exercising to maintain or improve strength and flexibility, and driving an automatic vehicle with large mirrors are all strategies for safe driving with arthritis.
• Vision changes impact a driver’s ability to see people, movement outside your direct line of sight, road and traffic signs, and headlight glare. Safe driving tips include eye exams at least annually, keep glasses or contacts prescriptions current, and reduce or eliminate nighttime driving.
• Hearing changes may impact hearing and reacting to sirens and horns as well as noises inside the car that can signal safety or mechanical issues. Strategies for safe driving include discussing hearing concerns with your doctor, getting hearing checked at least every three years, and keeping inside car sounds to a minimum.
• Medications can cause feelings of lightheadedness, sleepiness and reaction timing. Read all labels for warnings, and talk with the pharmacist about possible medication interactions.
CONVERSATIONS ABOUT DRIVING DECISIONS
The decision to give up driving is often an emotional one and often the topic is introduced by a family member or a close friend. If the driving safety of a loved one concerns you, consider the following tips for opening this discussion in a sensitive way:
• Begin driving conversations at an early age when there are few or no concerns. This will contribute to open and honest discussions.
• Focus on safety. This includes driver, passenger and pedestrian safety.
• Talk about changes that have made driving more stressful. These may include changes in road conditions or traffic that is faster and heavier than in the past.
• Find natural opportunities to bring up driver safety. Newspaper articles, news stories or other media often have stories about driving. Ask questions like, “Did you hear about . . . ?”
• Discuss the costs of driving. Gas, maintenance and insurance costs continue to rise. For those on a fixed income, these expenses may place pressure on other necessities such as food, housing and medications.
• Look for natural ways to decrease driving. Carpooling or arranging for family run errands will naturally reduce driving requirements.
* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.