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Driving Dilemmas: Risk vs. Independence

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 5)
 

Resources do exist to help physicians assess older adults with memory impairments, weigh the legal and ethical responsibilities, broach the topic of driving retirement and move toward workable plans. The Hartford Insurance Corporation, for example, offers two free publications that make excellent patient handouts: At the Crossroads: A Guide to Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia and Driving and We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers. These resources reveal warning signs and offer practical tips, sound advice, communication starters, and planning forms. Other resources can be found through the Alzheimer's Association. Physicians can also refer to the laws and reporting requirements for unsafe drivers in their state and work proactively with patients and their families or caregivers to achieve driving retirement before serious problems occur. Ultimately, assessing and counseling patients about their fitness to drive should be part of the medical practice for all patients as they age and face health changes.

Driver’s Role in Driving Cessation
“How will you know when it is time to stop driving?” was a question posed to older adults in a research study. Responses included “When the stress level from my driving gets high enough, I’ll probably throw my keys away” and “When you scare the living daylights out of yourself, that’s when it’s time to stop.” These responses are clues to a lack of insight and regard for the social responsibility of holding a driver’s license and the critical need for education, evaluation and planning.

Realizing one can no longer drive can lead to social isolation and a loss of personal or spousal independence, self-sufficiency, and even employment. In general, older drivers want to decide for themselves when to quit, a decision that often stems from the progression of medical conditions that affect vision, physical abilities, perceptions and, consequently, driving skills. There are many things that an older adult can do to be a safe driver and to participate in his or her own driving cessation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that older adults:

  • Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility.

  • Limit driving only to daytime, low traffic, short radius, clear weather

  • Plan the safest route before driving and find well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.

  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review medicines—both prescription and over-the counter—to reduce side effects and interactions.

  • Have eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.

  • Preplan and consider alternative sources and costs for transportation and volunteer to be a passenger

 

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