How to Gauge a Senior’s Driving Ability

How Can You Tell Whether Your Elderly Parent Should Stop Driving?

The danger of putting off the dreaded “car keys” conversation with an elderly parent is clear. However, it is also harmful to deprive a senior of a big part of his freedom before it is necessary. Just because a senior has reached a certain age doesn’t mean that he can no longer drive safely; instead, adult children of a senior should keep an eye out for the telltale signs that driving is no longer a viable option for transportation. Here are some tips to help you determine whether it is time for a family member or in-home caregiver to take over the driving responsibilities:

Physical Frailty

We drive so often that we barely think of the physical exercise it requires. But elderly folks, even those with sharp mental ability, may have a hard time with some aspects of driving. Here are a few examples:

  • Arthritis or rheumatism can make it hard to grasp the steering wheel securely. If a senior with weakened hand muscles needs to suddenly turn the wheel to avoid an accident, she may not be able to do so.
  • Weakened leg and foot muscles may not be able to navigate the gas and brake pedals reliably—again, in an emergency situation the speed required to respond quickly may not be present.
  • If diminished vision or cataracts have developed since a senior’s last driving test, it is up to family to judge whether the senior can still see well enough to drive safely.

Cognitive Decline

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are obvious factors that should put an end to an elderly person’s driving career. But all cognitive decline is not as clearly defined as those conditions, and many times family needs to make a judgment call about a senior’s mental sharpness as it relates to driving.

  • If a senior has become resistant to change, he will probably have a hard time responding quickly if construction or an accident scene has altered a familiar route. Failing to notice a lane closure or detour instruction can quickly lead to an accident.
  • If a senior forgets familiar pieces of information, such as family members’ names, it is safe to assume that that forgetfulness will extend to the many aspects of driving a vehicle. A frequent cause of accidents, for example, is mistaking the gas pedal for the brake.
  • Poor judgment is a broad category, but certainly comes into play when driving. We make hundreds of small decisions during the course of every driving trip, each of which is important to our safety.

Personal Enjoyment

It may be easier to approach the “car keys” conversation from a positive perspective rather than a negative one. If relatives and friends are happy to drive a senior where she needs to go, she may be content to ride instead of drive. A key responsibility on the part of family is to remain enthusiastic about providing transportation, never making the senior feel as if she is becoming a burden.

Photo by faungg’s photo

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