ASK GARY: How Do I know if it’s Sill Safe for My Older Relatives to Drive?
One of the most difficult conversations to have with elderly relatives is whether they are still capable of operating their vehicle safely. Often these are the same people that taught us how to drive, so confronting them on their abilities is a very a tricky situation. American culture is deeply connected to automobiles, and driving is seen by many as a symbol of independence.
Before approaching this discussion, there are several clues that can help you determine when your relative is no longer capable of driving safely. Decreased vision and hearing are the most common ailments that diminish the elderly’s driving abilities. Yet sometimes abilities may deteriorate so slowly that many do not realize how badly their senses have worsened until it is too late. Physical conditions like arthritis also inhibit drivers’ ability to respond to unexpected road conditions, or may make it painful to even operate a vehicle under normal conditions (making a turn, for example). Mental issues may be more identifiable, but often are more complicated to approach. Missing turns and getting lost are common signs of diminishing mental health, and should not be taken lightly.
Some of the most common signs of reduced driving ability are scrapes and dents on the vehicle’s body, or around the garage, mailbox, or wherever the car is usually parked. Moving violations, confusion around intersections and traffic lights, and a general lack of awareness of the road are all symptoms of cognitive ailments. While these may appear minor, smaller accidents such as these all point to a larger, more dangerous collision waiting to happen.
Being aware of the physical limitations of your relatives might be the best way to determine if they might have any difficulty driving. Pay attention to moments and see if they have trouble or difficulty walking around, opening doors, etc. Additionally, newly prescribed medication might have side-effects that could reduce their driving abilities, so set some time aside for an adjustment period so that you can get a sense if there are any ill effects.
In the state of Massachusetts, motorists over the age of 75 are required to renew their license in person (which must happen every five years). However, this age does not reflect the myriad of differences people have when aging –some may struggle on the road as early as 60, while some 80 year olds may drive just fine. The best way of determining when it’s time for an older relative to hang up their keys comes from simply watching out for him or her. A study conducted by MIT found that 50% of married seniors prefer to hear these concerns from their spouses, closely followed by doctors and adult children. If you suspect that someone in your family might be safer out of the driver’s seat, let them know your concerns. After all, it’s always nice to know that someone cares.