For many people, the ability to drive one’s self is vital to independence. Without it, a seemingly simple trip to the pharmacy can become a chore requiring significant planning, as one suddenly finds themselves reliant on friends, relatives, and public transportation. It is for these reasons that many senior citizens continue to drive, in some cases even after they have lost the physical and/or cognitive ability to do so safely.
Helping a loved one understand it is time to discontinue driving is challenging. Deciding when that time has come can also be difficult. Knowing the warning signs that it is time to hand over the keys can help prevent an avoidable tragedy.
- Near Misses – Even a capable and safe driver is prone to close calls for one reason or another. But when those start to be more frequent, it is time to be concerned. Keep in mind that every incident or near-incident is subject to one’s point of view. So while your loved one may claim, “He came out of nowhere” the reality could be that he/she did not recognize the danger until it was nearly too late.
- Vehicle Damage – We’ve all had our share of bumps and knicks. But when those start to accumulate rapidly, you should take notice. Pay particular attention to garages, mailboxes, and fences. Damage in those places is an indication of a loss of control of the vehicle.
- Confusion or Getting Lost – When a loved one suddenly struggles to know where they are, it can be frustrating and embarrassing for them. Besides being an inconvenience, these can lead to dangerous situations, as busy roads and interchanges do not lend themselves to indecision or tentativeness.
- Changes in Driving Habits – If a loved one becomes reluctant to drive or attend social outings, he/she may be feeling the stress of driving. Taking a ride with them can help you to understand if your loved one’s mood or ability to focus has changed while he/she is behind the wheel.
- Tickets or Insurance Changes – Again, most of us have had a fender bender and/or a ticket. But usually not both within weeks of each other! With increased citations and accidents come increased insurance premiums.
- Physical Limitations – Changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time can each have an impact on one’s ability to safely drive. And while some vision and hearing issues can be corrected, those due to loss of cognitive ability are likely to have a permanent impact on driving skills.
People ages 70 and older are more likely to have an automobile accident than any other age group, save teenagers. And among those involved in an accident, seniors are the most likely to suffer a fatal injury. We at Burlington Health Care know these are difficult conversations to have and we are here to support you in any way we can.