Caring Concerns Issue 3: Just Getting Around TownThe National Institute on Aging estimates that over a half million seniors age 70 and over giveup driving annually
. And there are many more who
stop driving but don’t. It’s a difficultsituation that seniors and their families find themselves in.Seniors tend to be a thoughtful, safety-conscious group on the whole. So why would they continue todrive when they are afraid or suspect it’s unsafe? Because there’s more involved with senior drivingthan the safety issue. It’s really about independence. Most seniors feel that losing driving privilegesmeans losing independence and loss of independence is one thing seniors work to avoid, sometimesat all costs. Many seniors deny their real limitations and driving difficulties long after driving hasbecome dangerous for them.
How does age change a person’s ability to drive?
The body naturally changes over time:
eyesight and hearing can become impaired. Often the loss is so gradual andthe person is so accustomed to compensating for it that the senior doesn’t realize howpoor his/her hearing and sight have become. Common compensations are to stopdriving at night or on the highway because darkness and high speed makes it moredifficult to see signs, traffic lanes and turns. Instead many seniors choose to drive onlyduring the day and on back streets they are more familiar with.
joints may become stiff and muscles weaken. As people age we tend togive up the “heavy work” and our muscle strength reduces to match our lack of activity.
reflexes slow causing reduced response time to high speed traffic andunexpected situations.
high speed traffic, unfamiliar territory, and aggressive drivers canraise a senior’s stress level causing uncertainty and impaired decision making.Medical conditions can compound these changes:
Cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetes
affect vision and, leftuntreated, can cause blindness.
Parkinson’s Disease and
stroke related paralysis
reduce the ability tomove within the vehicle. This may make it difficult to turn on windshield wipers or turn tolook behind for lane changes and backing up
Depression, and interrupted sleep patterns
can affect mood, attention andresponse time
Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias
affect a person’s thinking and behavior.
How do we know when it’s time to give up driving?
This is the question that really requires thesenior to be honest with himself or herself. There’s no magic age to hanging up your keys. Some folksfind they have to stop driving at 60 while others can drive safely into their 90’s. Here are some thingsfor seniors to ask themselves before making the big decision:1.Do other drivers often honk their horns at me?2.Have I had some accidents? Even small scratches or “fender benders”?3.Do I get lost, even on roads I know well?