In our culture, getting your driver’s license at 16 is a rite of passage that most teens look forward to. It’s a symbol of independence and represents the freedom to go places and do things. It becomes a major key to social activities, shopping, and even getting a job. This is true throughout our entire adult lives and especially true for aging seniors. That’s why seniors are so reluctant to give up their car keys, even if they suspect they should.
Although there is no specific age at which seniors need to stop driving, statistics by the Hartford Insurance Corporation show that in seniors over the age of 75 there’s a much greater risk of being in a car accident with every mile driven. The risk is about the same as for new drivers between the ages of 16 and 24. This increase in accidents is due primarily to the aging drivers’ decrease in senses, multiple chronic health conditions, and increased medication consumption. There are warning signs to look for that will let you know your loved one needs to give up the keys or to at least decrease the amount of driving they do. It’s a good idea to take a ride with them and see for yourself how they’re doing. Do they drift into other lanes or straddle two lanes? Do they drive particularly slowly or unduly fast for the road conditions? Do they fail to use their turn signal or do they leave it on without changing lanes? Do they ignore or miss traffic signs or traffic signals? Do they make sudden lane changes? Does your senior get disoriented easily, even when in familiar places? Have there been any “warnings” by the police? Are there any unexplained dents or scrapes on the car?
If you see any of these warning signs, it’s time to have that dreaded conversation about giving up the keys or at the very least minimize the amount of driving your senior does. Until that time when your loved one gives up their keys there are things they can do to help minimize the risks. Encourage them to limit their driving time to the daytime and not during rush hours. Get them to drive only during good weather and optimal road conditions. Make the trips short and use the most direct but safe routes. Keep the radio turned off and minimize the number of passengers in order to reduce distractions. Basically, apply the same strategies with your senior driver that you would apply to a novice teenaged driver. It’s also a good idea to have the pharmacist review your senior’s medications to determine if they can affect their driving. Making these gradual changes may allow your senior to ease into giving up driving. Surrendering the car keys is a major life change. It makes good sense to reduce the risks well before a major crisis mandates an immediate change. Please share your thoughts and experiences below. Visit us at www.trilliumhomecare.com