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4 Ways to Help Families Navigate Senior Driving Concerns

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Senior care professionals can be an objective voice when families are disagreeing about an older loved one’s driving future.

Surveyed North American seniors, age 70 and older, are heavily dependent upon having a car and driving, according to research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead® network. Nearly half of these seniors are at least somewhat concerned about losing their driving ability, according to the research.

“An occupational therapist can be a great referral source to help take some of the emotion out of potentially volatile situations,” said Elin Schold Davis, Project Coordinator, Older Driver Initiative, American Occupational Therapy Association.

Following are some ways that these occupational therapy practitioners or other senior care professionals can help:

Encourage families to get the facts first and decide the best course of action. Taking away the car keys should be the last choice. An evaluation from an occupational therapist can provide an objective third-party voice. Occupational therapists are often called in by physicians to evaluate driving competence after a medical event such as a fall, amputation, or paralysis after a stroke. However, one can be contacted any time a family has concerns.

Recommend the CarFit program. CarFit is an educational program created by the American Society on Aging and developed in collaboration with the American Automobile Association (AAA), AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association. The program is designed to help older drivers find out how well they currently fit their personal vehicle, to highlight actions they can take to improve their fit, and to promote conversations about driver safety and community mobility. A proper fit in one’s personal vehicle can greatly increase not only the driver’s safety but also the safety of others.

Four quick examples from the CarFit program underscore the importance of road safety to the CarFit program, which reviews 12 key areas of the driver’s fit to his or her personal vehicle.

  1. Knowing how to properly adjust one’s mirrors can help to greatly minimize blind spots for drivers who may wish to change lanes.

  2. Good foot positioning on the gas and brake pedals is important. If the driver is reaching with his or her toes to press on the pedals, it can cause fatigue in one’s leg and slowed reaction times.

  3. Drivers run a risk of serious injury if they are sitting closer than 10 inches to the steering wheel.

  4. Seat belt usage is among the most important habits for older adults to practice. If a senior is hesitant to wear a seat belt because of discomfort at the neck or the fact it is too hard to reach, you can explore solutions at CarFit and discuss concerns with an occupational therapist.

Discuss conversation starters and strategies for a talk with an older adult. Think about giving up a lifelong habit and what that could mean in your life. The self-esteem of older adults who no longer drive can suffer. Remind your aging loved one that he or she did not lose the ability to drive because someone, like a physician, arbitrarily “took it away.” It was the changes experienced from his or her disease or condition of aging that made it no longer safe to drive.

Encourage families to put a plan in place before taking away the car keys. Unless an older adult poses an immediate danger to him- or herself or another driver, families shouldn’t encourage an older adult to give up driving without presenting a comprehensive plan of alternatives to help give a senior the confidence that he or she can still face life with independence.

For more resources about navigating driving issues to share with seniors and their families, visit the Let’s Talk about Driving℠ program page.

Each Home Instead® franchise office is independently owned and operated.

Last revised: April 28, 2016

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 1, 2016 at 10:24 am | Posted by Mary Bulla Sanchez

    As the coordinator for a senior center and the daughter of two octogenarians, I know well how difficult this issue can be to navigate. I have done a great deal of research into this - in addition to the CarFit program, which is a great tool, I have found that AARP offers a program on when and how to have "the talk" with older drivers about whether they should be driving. I also discovered that IDriveSmart (largely known for its bright yellow driver's education cars) also offers an evaluation of senior drivers to gauge their driving abilities. They will even pick the senior up at home, in their yellow cars, to do this!


  2. June 22, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Posted by sylvia kmiec

    very helpful article


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