Did you know that December 1 to 7 is National Safe Driving Week?
An old adage tells us that with age, comes wisdom. It often glosses over the fact that some much less desirable side effects often accompany our advancing years, such as diminished eyesight and hearing, decreased flexibility, increased dependence on medications, as well as a sense of our own inability to continue to perform a function as competently as we once did.
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Often, seniors have no problem admitting to themselves, and others, that they may have difficulty hiking a mountain trail or juggling care of young quadruplets at their advanced years, but they cannot bring themselves to admit that driving may be an area in which their skills may have diminished, possibly because to do so would be a threat to their personal mobility, and thus their independence. However, all other issues aside, not to acknowledge some concerns, and make some concessions to age-related issues, could threaten not just their independence, but their lives, and the lives of those who drive with, and around, them.
In an aging driver, the first thing which must be assessed is the physical condition of the driver. Eyesight and hearing must be tested on a regular basis, and adjustments made as needed. All drivers should be outfitted with the necessary accoutrements, be they contact lenses, glasses, hearing aids, or whatever, and wear them whenever they drive.
Seniors should also review their medications to make sure none of them will interfere with their ability to concentrate enough to safely operate a motor vehicle. Staying alert will help them to stay alive. Emphasize to your senior driver that they should not allow their mind to wander, or become distracted. This includes a ban on eating, phoning, texting, smoking, or getting too caught up with some oldies, but goodies blasting from the radio. Additionally, seniors should perform exercises or stretches to maintain upper body torsion to insure their ability to adequately observe activity around them while turning or backing up.
The human body is not the only thing, which must be maintained and adjusted. The vehicle itself should be of concern. Always wear a seatbelt. This is a given, no matter the age of the driver. Mirrors should be adjusted to allow a full range of vision, and make sure the visor is positioned to prevent glare. Clean the windows! No one’s vision is good enough to see through the opaque glaze of a grandchild’s finger painting, done in ice cream on the rear window. When driving, keep noise, and thus distractions to a minimum. Turn the radio down, reduce the speed of the ventilator fan, and ask your passengers to use their inside voices. Of course, just as the body wears with age, so does the vehicle. Make sure that it receives proper maintenance to keep it performing at an optimum level.
Finally, there may be certain traffic conditions which senior drivers may want to avoid, if possible. Heavy rush hour traffic is no picnic for anyone, but seniors may want to avoid the added stress. Rain or snow can undoubtedly add driving risks, and should be avoided when possible. And, we all are familiar with those dangerous intersections, the ones where a left turn may be near impossible without cat-like reflexes. Who’s to say that making three right turns and taking a little more time is not a better solution? However, bear in mind that driving at night, or at dusk or dawn, may be visually challenging for those with diminished vision, even if it has been corrected by lenses.
An acceptable solution for anyone concerned about their ability, or the ability of a beloved senior, to competently operate a motor vehicle is a comprehensive driving evaluation. This evaluation is typically done in two parts, the first in a driving clinic, and the second on the road. In the clinic, an occupational therapist will make a complete evaluation of the senior driver’s physical abilities, as they relate to driving ability. This evaluation will include sight and hearing, physical mobility, as well as perceptual and cognitive ability. The road test will allow the therapist to judge how any findings in the clinic will affect the senior’s driving.
The therapist will observe how the driver’s perception and cognitive abilities, as well as their physical attributes adds, or detracts, from their driving skills, and make recommendations pursuant to these observations. This may involve adjustments to their corrective devices, if any, new techniques to increase concentration, and recommendations for self-restrictions. They may suggest that the senior attend a refresher driving course.
In conclusion, such an independent driving evaluation will go a long way toward easing the mind of a senior driver, as well as the minds of those who care about them.