Elderly Drivers Behind the Wheel - Questions to Ask
Bringing up the topic of driving with your elderly parent may not be easy or pleasant.
When broaching the subject of driving safety and responsibility, keep in mind the emotional well-being of your parent. It may not be safe for elderly drivers to drive anymore, but you must still take the tender and gentle approach to the topic. After all, imagine how you would feel if someone told you that they were taking your car keys away!
Many seniors are perfectly safe drivers, and some drive up to 85 years of age or older. According to recent statistics, nearly ten million seniors over the age of 65 live alone and rely on their own abilities and cars for transportation. Driving is a form of independence treasured by all age groups, but one that should be considered safe, not only for your elderly parent, but for others on the road as well. How do you determine whether Mom is a safe driver? What do you look for? What are some danger signs that Mom may not be as safe on the road as you would like?
First, assess how your parent drives when you're a passenger. Does she drive super-slow, or does she have a lead foot that causes you to grasp the dashboard in growing anxiety? While studies have shown that seniors have fewer accidents and collisions than teenagers do, they also experience more severe injuries when there is an accident.
Assess Mom's reaction time to stop signs, stoplights and unexpected pedestrian encounters. Does she have arthritis in her knee, hip or ankle that may affect her ability to switch from the accelerator to the brake pad? Are Mom's eyes okay, or is she experiencing a loss of vision due to medications or medical conditions?
While most elderly drivers voluntarily reduce nighttime driving, other conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders that may interfere with their coordination, reaction time, and judgment when driving.
Watch for signs that Mom's judgment may be impaired. For example, does she ignore street signs, speed limits, or neglect to put on her seatbelt? Does she avoid driving after taking medications? Most importantly, is Dad or Mom's car in good working order? Do the defroster and windshield wipers work? Do turn signals and exterior lights work properly? Can Mom see through the rear-view and side mirrors?
As Mom ages, try to suggest decreased driving at dawn or dusk or at nighttime, during rush hour, or on busy streets in town. Suggest that Mom utilize the services of another family member to drive longer distances or in bad weather such as rain or snow.
Eventually, you may have to make a decision to take the car keys away from Mom, especially if she has been diagnosed with a form of dementia such as Alzheimer's, or has been diagnosed with a medical condition such as Parkinson's disease, which may affect her motor control and coordination. In addition, if Mom seems to be experiencing increased difficulty making judgment calls, has received a recent ticket for speeding, ignores driving regulations, or drives while impaired, it may be time to supervise her driving.
In the event that you have determined Mom is no longer a safe driver, for herself, her passengers, or others on the road, you will need to be firm in standing by your decision to restrict her use of the car keys. Before broaching such a topic, have alternative modes of transportation in mind.
Driving offers seniors independence and freedom. It's very difficult for many of our elderly drivers to ask for or rely on the help of others to get them from point A to point B. However, Mom's safety should be uppermost in your mind, and as difficult as this conversation maybe, ensure her that her safety is your primary concern.