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Safe Driving Planner

April 18, 2016

It can be difficult to know whether your senior loved ones are still safe on the road or a danger to themselves or others. Older adults could simply need a refresher course or a plan to limit driving. Or they may need to consider giving up the keys altogether. Check out this Safe Driving Planner. Watch these short videos, then click on “Learn More” for  warning signs, conversation starters, planning tips and additional resources.

Overview

North American seniors (70 and older) are still very active on the road; 40% are driving at least once a day, if not more. —Home Instead Senior Care research

Seniors often view their ability to keep driving like a badge of honor. That’s because driving can be one of the last strongholds of independence. The truth is, many seniors can continue to drive safely well into their senior years. Furthermore, medical procedures to improve vision and various tools and resources can help many older adults keep their driving skills safely honed. It largely all comes down to staying abreast of the changes of aging and being willing and able to adapt.

Look for signs of changing driving abilities.

Signs of Changing Driving Abilities

“Age has nothing to do with determining the capacity to drive,” says Elin Schold Davis, Project Coordinator, AOTA Older Driver Initiative, American Occupational Therapy Association. “It does have to do with changes in vision, physical skills such as the ability to reach, turn and work the pedals, and cognitive capabilities such as recalling the rules of the road, making quick decisions and navigating.” Some potential warning signs and changing abilities could include any of the following:

  • Avoids driving in the dark, rain or other adverse conditions

  • Rides or drives with others, indicating a possible reluctance to drive alone

  • Looks for easy “pull-through” parking spots to avoid backing up

  • Displays an inability to see traffic signs or hear car horns

  • Fails to stop at red lights or stop signs, or slides through the intersection.

  • Exhibits an increasing discomfort with managing the vehicle, such as pain when reaching for seatbelt

  • Backs up without checking mirrors due to pain turning head

Don’t know where to start? Get some conversation starters.

Conversation Starters

Following are tips to help get the conversation started:

  • “Dad, if you’d feel more comfortable with me picking you up, I’d be glad to do so. Or, we could talk to your neighbor Bob about you riding along with him to the grocery store. Which option would you prefer?”

  • “I know you are still perfectly capable of driving, but I want you to know I’m always willing to give you a ride if you don’t feel comfortable driving somewhere.”

  • “Mom, have you ever thought about what you’d do if Dad couldn’t drive you everywhere? If you ever have any concerns about driving, you know you can talk with me.”

  • “That new construction on Main Street is so confusing. I know it would be easy to get lost. Shall we talk about an alternate route?”

Discover ways to plan ahead.

Ways to Plan Ahead

  • Make sure hearing and eyesight are checked at least annually. If an older adult has a hearing impairment, encourage him or her to wear a hearing aid before getting out on the road.

  • According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 95% of older adults use medications that could impair their driving. Talk to your doctor about the potential effects of medication on an older adult’s ability to safely drive.

  • If your senior loved ones are considering a new car purchase, encourage them to think about getting additional features such as rear back-up cameras and hands-free parallel parking systems. It might seem like an unnecessary expense now, but it may come in handy several years down the road.

  • If you are wondering what “new” features may support your senior loved one’s safe driving or if that driving ability is in question, suggest the senior get his or her driving skills evaluated to pinpoint skills and areas that might benefit from a driver safety program. If you are looking for an individualized approach, where a professional evaluates any driving challenges with the intent to explore strategies and options to enable continued driving, consider a comprehensive driving evaluation from an occupational therapist in the U.S. or in Canada.

Additional resources

Additional Resources

U.S.

Canada

Safely Driving with Limitations

Overview

Driving at night is the primary concern seniors have; 41% of seniors say they are less comfortable with this than they used to be. —Home Instead Senior Care research

A dent can appear on anyone’s vehicle, right? It’s not necessarily a sign of a dangerous driver or that it’s time for an older adult to give up the keys for good. However, if it’s a senior behind the wheel of a vehicle where “unexplained” damage appears, it is worth following up. Many older adults sense when their driving skills are changing and will self-regulate their driving habits. Others may not want to do so or, if cognitive impairment has damaged their capacity for insight, be able to do that. Such a situiation could prompt the need for an open discussion and a transition plan.

Look for signs of changing driving abilities.

Signs of Changing Driving Abilities

According to Elin Schold Davis, Project Coordinator, AOTA Older Driver Initiative, American Occupational Therapy Association, imposing limitations is an individual’s opportunity to be wise as he or she may recognize where the potential risks are the greatest such as driving at night. Equipping a vehicle with special equipment, such as adaptive mirrors, also may provide opportunities to drive longer and more safely. That kind of flexibility could keep an older adult on the road safer and longer. Recognizing the potential signs that could indicate a change in driving skill and fitness is the first step—for seniors and their families. Some of the potential warning signs and changing abilities may include:

  • Drives below the speed limit or even stops at green lights

  • Reports unexplained dents or accidents

  • Positions the driver’s seat unusually close to the steering wheel

  • Shows evidence of untreated cataracts

  • Experiences decreased flexibility and mobility, and/or pain

  • Exhibits the inability to see or understand traffic signs

  • Prescribed a new medication or change in dosage (this effect may be short-term but essential to recognize)

  • Becomes easily distracted or angered

  • Has trouble navigating turns

  • Becomes confused at exits

  • Hits curbs

  • Prompts other drivers to honk

  • Mixes up gas and brake pedals

  • Gets lost

Don’t know where to start? Get some conversation starters.

Conversation Starters

Following are tips to help get the conversation started:

  • “Hey Dad, what happened to the car? Are you OK? You know your safety is my No. 1 concern.”

  • “Say, Mom, how about we take a ride to the grocery store? It’s been a while since we’ve ridden together.”

  • “I think it’s smart that you have decided to not drive at night because you don’t feel comfortable doing so. I don’t want you to miss out, though. Let’s discuss how to make sure that you still have a way to get where you want and need to go in the evenings.”

  • “I want you to be able to keep driving for as long as possible. There are programs out there that could help you do so. Shall we look into it?”

Discover ways to plan ahead.

Ways to Plan Ahead

  • Friends and neighbors can be a great resource for carpooling. Now is the time to start forging those relationships if you haven’t already.

  • Make public transportation an adventure. Why not plan a day to take your senior loved one on the public transportation system or hire a taxi, car service or driver?

  • Discuss signing up for a program to help sharpen driving skills such as the driver safety program from AARP and the driver improvement program from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

  • Investigate routes that are generally safer just because of the signage or roadway design, such as streets where there are traffic lights with left-turn arrows.

Additional resources

Additional Resources

U.S.

Canada

Unsafely Driving

Overview

Nearly one-fifth (18%) of North American senior drivers age 85 or older who were surveyed say they have had family or friends suggest they reduce or stop driving. —Home Instead Senior Care research

Whether he or she has driven into the garage door or backed into the mailbox, sometimes an older adult’s actions behind the wheel leave no doubt. It’s time to give up the keys. If a senior does not recognize that fact too, families may face a bumpy road. That’s why it might be time to ask your loved one to schedule a comprehensive driving evaluation by an occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist. Avoiding an inevitability doesn’t make it go away, and waiting too long may mean missing out on learning about what can be done to extend driving longer. Some problems can be fixed! It’s also important to remind seniors that driving does not equal mobility. Giving up driving is not giving up engagement.

Look for signs of changing driving abilities.

Signs of Changing Driving Abilities

“The reason that giving up driving is so emotional is that it often represents the first time a loved one must say ‘no’ to something their spouse or parent wants to do,” says Elin Schold Davis, Project Coordinator, AOTA Older Driver Initiative, American Occupational Therapy Association. We are in a much better position when decisions regarding stopping driving are based on facts and data, not age or a knee-jerk reaction to one “incident,” Schold Davis noted. Check out these potential warning signs and changing abilities:

  • Experiences a major health episode, such as a heart attack or stroke

  • Shows evidence of worsening Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia

  • Reports a major accident

  • Shows signs of confusion

  • Friends and neighbors observe unsafe driving

  • Rides the brake

  • Relies on a friend as a co-pilot

  • Becomes increasingly irritated when driving

Don’t know where to start? Get some conversation starters.

Conversation Starters

Make time to talk about the issues that are important to you and a loved one:

  • “You know the doctor’s office has moved farther from your house, Mom. That would be quite a jaunt for you. Let’s talk about options for getting you there.”

  • “I know you count on driving to stay connected to your friends, but I’m concerned about your driving. I’d like to work on a solution together. Even if an accident is not your fault, you could be seriously hurt.”

  • “It’s not you, Dad. The disease is robbing you of your ability to drive. You can’t blame yourself. We all just want you to be safe. Let’s talk about how you can give up your car but still be active. What are your concerns?” (Listen more than you talk!)

  • “Since I live three hours away and can’t drive you every day, let’s talk about ways to help you get to where you need to go on days when you may not be safe driving.”

Discover ways to plan ahead.

Ways to Plan Ahead

  • Contact a qualified occupational therapist for a comprehensive driving evaluation. Collect and review the facts before making a decision.

  • Discuss with a loved one how much money would be saved if he or she gave up driving (insurance, vehicle maintenance, taxes, etc.) and how that money could be applied to alternate transportation.

  • Understand what’s behind your loved one’s fears about giving up the keys and address each of those concerns with an action plan. For instance, if a senior is concerned about getting groceries, find a grocery store that schedules home deliveries or help arrange for transportation to the store.

  • Prepare a monthly schedule of your senior’s appointments and activities, and come up with a solution for getting your loved one where he or she needs to go.

Additional resources

Additional Resources

U.S.

Canada

No Longer Driving

Overview

Approximately three-fourths (76%) of former drivers say since giving up driving, they most often rely on family members who are close by and able to drive. Friends also are a source (40%). —Home Instead Senior Care research

So your senior loved one has given up driving and you’re relieved! It’s easy to focus on the accidents and close calls you may have been worrying about rather than the years your loved one drove safely. However, just because your worries are over, those of your senior loved one could be just beginning. The inability to drive can keep older adults isolated, potentially leading to loneliness and depression. Driving is a lifeline for many older adults; when that is no longer an option, alternatives should be offered.

Examine the risks of no longer driving.

Risks of No Longer Driving

“Driving does not equal mobility,” says Elin Schold Davis, Project Coordinator, AOTA Older Driver Initiative, American Occupational Therapy Association. “It’s one way to get from point A to point B. It’s important to know that giving up driving is not giving up engagement in the community, recognizing that exploring and becoming comfortable with alternatives will take some work.” Now that an older adult has given up driving, the potential risks are different:

  • Isolation

  • Depression

  • Inability to get to necessary services, such as doctor appointments

  • Lack of socialization

  • Boredom

  • Loneliness

Don’t know where to start? Get some conversation starters.

Conversation Starters

Get the conversation started with examples such as these:

  • “Mom, I know you’re not getting out like you used to since you quit driving. Let’s plan some outings.”

  • “Dad, you seem isolated since you quit driving. Why don’t we take the money you received from the sale of your car and hire a car service? Then you can go whenever and wherever you like.”

  • “Let’s plan out your schedule for the week, Mom. We’ll figure out how to get you to all your appointments.”

  • “I’ll bet if you’d offer to buy lunch, Fern would be willing to drive you both!”

Discover ways to plan ahead.

Ways to Plan Ahead

  • Contact the local senior center to learn about the types of programs that are available for seniors. Discuss with the senior center or your local Area Agency on Aging alternate sources of transportation in your senior’s area.

  • Make sure your senior still has a picture ID to maintain an identity and feelings of independence even if he or she can no longer drive.

  • Help your loved ones develop a script to explain why they are no longer driving (e.g., blame it on the disease he or she may have).

  • Create a calendar with your senior’s monthly activities, appointments and social engagements and include the plan for how to get to those events. Think outside the box. For example, Uber recently announced a partnership with AARP to hire active seniors to become partner-drivers.

Additional resources

Additional Resources

U.S.

Canada

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 30, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Posted by Verna DeMerchant

    My husband was a commercial driver for many years ,starting at the age of 18. He turned in his licence at the age of 81 because his Doctor recommended he do so.He has a memory problem but is aware enough not to want to hurt anyone.I so admire the mature approach he took.I am 80 and will be turning in my licence soon and only drive locally

    Reply

  2. July 24, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Posted by Gaynor Connolly

    You need to stop saying take the test if you think they shouldn't drive move the keys , I don't care about their feelings and does anyone care that my son was hit by a woman with Alzheimer's and now lives with brain damage , and a lady I met on this site her son is dead.

    Reply

  3. July 23, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Posted by Kathy lutz

    There's a woman who lives around the corner. She's 90 or more. She keeps having accidents and drives on the wrong side of the street sometimes. I always wonder what has to happen for her to lose her license

    Reply

  4. July 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Posted by Reece

    It's hard to quit driving, but I did. I am 86 and I quit after scaring myself. I have macular degeneration in one eye, plus both feet are numb from effects of chemotheraphy, plus without my hearing aides I can't hear it thunder. I hate to rely on someone else's driving, but I am not ready to give up my mobility peacefully, but I will. I do not cherish the thought of injuring myself or someone else

    Reply

  5. July 20, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Posted by Irene Larsen

    I live in Michigan ( U.S. ). I took my husband to a neurologist and he was tested for both cognitive impairment and brain damage ( EEG, etc. ). He was found to have brain damage from mini strokes, and also had Vascular Dementia. Both of these conditions affected his decision making function and reasoning ability. The doctor said he could no longer drive and notified the Secretary of State.

    Reply

  6. July 15, 2016 at 8:40 pm | Posted by Elaine

    If you find a way, let me know. Scary times.

    Reply

  7. June 13, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Posted by Linda

    who has the energy to argue with the spouse when they won't stop driving.what do we do when we think there un safe.?

    Reply

  8. June 10, 2016 at 9:08 am | Posted by Nancy England

    My mother never was a very good driver - easily distracted. I did everything I could to keep her from picking up my kids at school. Her friends would see her coming and mutter "Please God, not next to my car." She had numerous minor scrapes (always someone else's fault). Finally I wrote to the state Department of Transportation (attn Troopers) and requested she be tested. They did. She never got to the actual driving skills because she flunked the visuals. ("All those signs were in Chinese, I swear it!") She asked if I was the one who turned her in and I told her I had (I don't lie). For the remaining years of her life she'd say things like "I can't believe my own daughter would stab me in the back." Naturally, I would always make myself available any time she wanted to go out. Didn't change her opinion of me, though. Until, at 94, she had a stroke and forgot all about that back-stabbing routine.

    Reply

  9. June 3, 2016 at 11:07 am | Posted by Douglas Lobo

    My wife still drives to only three places. a) pick up my grandson from school. b) Walmart where we live. c) Grocery store early stages of dementia. I have secretly followed her on various occasions and found no problems.Thank God/?

    Reply

  10. June 2, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Posted by Sandy Wallin

    My Dad failed to pass his driver's license renewal test 2 years ago but he refuses to stop driving and even worse, my mom supports it! They live in Vancouver and I live in Edmonton, so not much I can do about it. I've repeatedly lectured them on the dangers of him driving without a valid driver's license only to be told they don't care! They had a fender bender in a parking lot (not their fault) but they still drive! I just hope they get pulled over for something one day and they don't have an accident. My mom even lets him drive on his own to the grocery store - very, very scary - am tempted to call the RCMP and report his license.

    Reply

    • July 9, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Posted by Brenda

      Call the RCMP before he hurts someone... Are there public or private shuttle services for seniors he can use?

      Reply

  11. May 20, 2016 at 8:06 pm | Posted by Jan Lesperance

    My husband did not pass his memory test at our doctor's office and his drivers license was canceled. He is taking very hard and I am not used to driving so it is hard to adjust.

    Reply

    • June 2, 2016 at 10:10 am | Posted by Pam

      How did you get his drivers license cancelled?

      Reply

      • June 2, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Posted by Linda Carter

        My moms Doctor recommended a cognitive driving assessment through a software system called "Drive Able" which is run here in Mississauga, ON by St. Elizabeth's health care. There are several agencies throughout Canada that employ this software assessment which also includes a driving test with a qualified tester. They sent a copy of the results to the Ministry of Transportation and they took it from there. By the way: there is a cost to using the Drive Able software. Also your doctor can send a letter directly to the ministry with cognitive test results and diagnosis. They are obligated to do so if driving might be impaired in any way.

        Reply

      • June 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Posted by darrell

        My Mother and Father are 94 and 95 respectively. Both still have their licences though only my mom drives (much to the chagrin of her children.)They live in a semi-rural community but are relatively near my sister and my brother--Though they still own a relatively new vehicle, neither should be driving. Dad has had a recent heart problem and mom has significant arthritis in her lower back. I am more concerned about the welfare of another motorist or pedestrian than their own safety. As children my brother and my four sisters and myself have broached the subject of not driving--to no real avail. Are there avenues in place in which we could appeal to the state for the revoking of their licenses?

        Reply

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