When should the elder driver stop driving?By Veita Bland, M.D. / March 10, 2017
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One of the more sensitive events of aging happens when the time comes to question whether a family member should still drive. So many times a minor fender bender will prompt a family member, or in some cases the authorities, to ask if the time for driving has passed. This is a sensitive question. The implications of such are immense. The suspension of driving privileges will have profound implications on one’s life.
How will that person get around to the grocery store? How will they take care of personal needs such as their medical appointments? How will they get to the church and the bank? Who will make sure they can go to their usual club meetings and other social events? Who will be responsible for providing transportation for them? Will they do it with a smile?
Certainly, safety is first. We must make sure that our loved one is not harmed and that their driving is not harmful to others. The question though in some cases is truly black and white, they should not be driving but in other cases could something be done to help them be a safer driver?
We divide these drivers into three different groups. The first group is the healthy older driver. In this group the driver is still healthy and vibrant. This is the driver we want to possibly evaluate their driving skills with an instructor and they may only need to help them refresh their skills. This can be done on simulators in classrooms or an actual instructor may take them out on the road and evaluate their driving skills and give useful suggestions.
The next group would be the aging that are relatively still healthy but they seem to be slowing down and are becoming more frail. These people need to be evaluated by programs to see if they are fit to drive. Surprisingly, there are many such programs around that provide this service.
The third group of older drivers is referred to as the medically at risk. These would be that group of patients with clear medical problems. They would be that person who suffered a stroke or an amputation, who with rehabilitation and possible modification to their car may again become a safe driver. This group also includes the person who has dementia, a mild stroke or a brain injury. There is no doubt that these people should no longer drive.
We need to make people aware that we start to see a decrease in hearing and reaction times in their seventies. We also know that a driver in that age group, if involved in an accident, has greater morbidity and mortality. They can start to use protective measures by avoiding rush hour driving and planning out their trips. Newer cars that have the protection of signaling when getting to close to objects, blind spot assistance, back up cameras and GPS are indeed helpful.
We must remind ourselves that research shows that most men live seven years longer than they should be driving and most women live 11 years longer than they should be driving. Unfortunately, many older people do not have the social support they need to make that transition.
Be there for that older adult. Make time for them and their needs. Make sure that they know you are a willing partner who will help them make arrangements with transportation services, public or private. Take the time from your life to help them get around and make sure that their quality of life does not suffer as they transition to the non-driver.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on North Carolina A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Email Dr. Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org.