Allina Hospitals and Clinics
The ability to drive provides independence, but as we age, driving can become especially dangerous. The rate of fatal car crashes is known to rise sharply among drivers over the age of 70, so it is important to observe your parents and grandparents for signs of a diminishing capacity to drive safely. From my experience as a geriatrician, here are some simple ways to determine when it’s time for your loved ones to turn over the car keys.
- Close calls. The number-one indication is when the person begins to have close calls. You may notice dents and marks on his or her vehicle, or the garage door. When you ask, he or she may be unwilling—or even entirely unable—to tell you how it happened.
- Small accidents/tickets. I always ask my patients about any driving accidents or citations they have had within the past six months. Use this to determine if your loved one has begun to lose control over his or her confident driving history.
- Memory issues. Another warning sign is loss of memory. For example, your grandma might call and tell you that the other day she was driving to the grocery store but unexpectedly took a wrong turn, and lost her way. Getting lost on familiar roads and neighborhoods is very worrisome.
- Eyesight concerns. As we age, our eyesight weakens. Make sure to ask your loved ones if they have trouble reading road signs or driving in bad weather or at night. If they are having trouble with their vision at home, they are likely experiencing similar problems while driving.
- Reduced reflexes. Our reflexes also degrade with age. When you are in the car with your loved one, observe whether he or she has trouble at stop signs and intersections, hesitates to change lanes or merge into traffic, forgets to use turn signals, or drives too close to or too far from other cars.
- Limited neck-motion mobility. Frequent and flexible neck motion is critical to driving, and people in their 20s have a much wider range than those in their 70s. A quick test I do in the clinic is to ask my patients to demonstrate their neck motion to evaluate its range.
- Chronic health issues. Many older adults have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or progressive illnesses such as Parkinson's, which can cause weakness or pain in the limbs. This puts them at greater risk for accidents.
- Medications. Many medicines cause side effects that can lead to accidents. If possible, review all of your loved one’s medications with their physician to ensure that none will affect their ability to drive safely.
Talking to your loved one about this is often difficult. Instead of becoming "the bad guy," it is best to bring a health provider into a discussion or medical evaluation. If the provider determines that he or she should not drive anymore, or should limit driving in specific ways, then it is easier for the provider to deliver this news. Such a visit also provides your loved one with an opportunity to ask questions, or express concerns and disagreements in a non-confrontational setting. Additionally, occupational therapists can conduct a behind-the wheel (BTW) driving evaluation.
No one wants to be responsible for taking away a driver's license, so a BTW evaluation is often the best approach. However, BTW evaluations are typically not covered by medical insurance. Check with your insurance provider before making an appointment.
To read the full article from Mrinalini Mudkanna, MD, click here.