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Driving Dilemmas: Risk vs. Independence

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 5 of 5)
 

Solutions 
There are a multitude of solutions and recommendations that can be made in support of older drivers. Public education and awareness is at the forefront. An educational program that includes both classroom and on the road instruction can improve knowledge and enhance driving skills.

The AAA Foundation provides several safe driving Web sites with tools for seniors and their loved ones to assess the ability to continue driving safely.  These include AAAseniors.com and seniordrivers.org.  They also sponsor a series of Senior Driver Expos around the country where seniors and their loved ones can learn about senior driving and mobility challenges and have a hands-on opportunity to sample AAA's suite of research-based senior driver resources. Information on the Expos is available at aaaseniors.com

AARP offers an excellent driver safety program that addresses defensive driving and age-related changes, and provides tools to help judge driving fitness. Expanding this program or even requiring participation seems to be a viable entry point for tackling the challenges of driving with the aging population.

CarFit is an educational program that helps older adults check how well their personal vehicles "fit" them and if the safety features are compatible with their physical characteristics. This includes height of the car seat, mirrors, head restraints, seat belts, and proper access to the pedals. CarFit events are scheduled throughout the country and a team of trained technicians and/or health professionals work with each participant to ensure their cars are properly adjusted for their comfort and safety.

Modification of driving policies to extend periods of safe driving is another solution. Older drivers nearing the end of their safe driving years could Ďretireí from driving gradually, rather than Ďgive upí the driverís license.  An older adult can be encouraged to relinquish the driverís license and be issued a photo identification card at the local driverís bureau.

The Alzheimerís Association proposes several driving assessment and evaluation options. Among them are a vision screening by an optometrist, cognitive performance testing (CPT) by an occupational therapist, motor function screening by a physical or occupational therapist, and a behind the wheel assessment by a driver rehabilitation specialist. Poor performances on these types of tests have been correlated with poor driving outcomes in older adults, especially those with dementia. Requiring a driving test after a certain age to include both a written test and a road test may be an option considered by each state.  Finally, continued input and guidance will be necessary from AARP, state licensing programs, transportation planners, and policymakers to meet the needs of our aging driving population.

It is appropriate to regard driving as an earned privilege and independent skill that is subject to change in later life. In general, having an attitude of constant adjustment until an older individual has to face the actual moment of driving cessation seems to be a positive approach. Without recognizing the magnitude of this transition, improving the quality of life in old age will be compromised. Keeping our nationís roads safe while supporting older drivers is a notable goal to set now and for the future.

 

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