Life after driving — recognize warnings signs for older driver safety

Published in General, Senior Living, Senior Services Author: Tiffany Rickbeil,MD

 Internal Medicine
CentraCare Clinic – River Campus Internal Medicine

This week is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. The thought of taking one’s keys away — or even discussing it — is unpleasant. However, there may come a time when your concern for a loved one's safety is too great to ignore.

When friends and family get together around the holidays, it's a convenient time to have these crucial conversations. Experts recommend the following advice when dealing with these situations:

  • Recognize warning signs. If your loved one exhibits any of the following behaviors, it may be a sign that they are not safe to drive anymore:
    • Confusing the gas and brake pedals or having problems using them.
    • Ignoring traffic signals or stop signs.
    • Weaving or having difficulty staying in one’s lane.
    • Having difficulty keeping up, even when traffic is moving slowly.
    • Getting lost or confused.
    • Having fender-benders or near-misses.
  • Be non-threatening and focus on solutions. It’s best to focus the conversation on what he or she would do if they quit driving. This way, you’re working together to find alternatives and allowing your loved one to offer input.
  • Determine if adaptive equipment can help. It’s possible that your loved one’s driving is fine, but could use some assistance to make it easier. Some possibilities include modifying a vehicle’s power steering (to make it easier for those with flexibility problems), adding ribbons that make pulling and reaching for one’s seat belt easier and the use of emergency navigation systems.
  • Get your loved one’s doctor involved. His or her health care provider can offer solutions, like a driving evaluation by an occupational therapist or other specialist who can offer an expert assessment. The doctor can also test your loved one’s vision, hearing and determine if any current medical conditions or medications could increase the risk of a crash.
  • Talk with other friends and family members. Older adults often resist giving up driving because they worry about losing independence and becoming isolated. Working with others, you can help determine who can get your loved one to important functions. And you also can work to find carpooling, public transportation and/or what other community resources are available.

Change can be difficult, just as it is inevitable. By focusing on these tips, you can help reassure your loved one and that you are concerned about his/her well-being. Recognize that it is important that your loved one stay engaged and active in the community, but that you also want to find ways to keep him/her safe.

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