How do I determine if my elderly parent is ok to drive?
I’ve spoken with experts in the field of elder services on this topic. There is no age in which someone should stop driving. Reflexes slow down, vision and hearing may change, but that is not a reason to stop driving. In fact, there are studies that show driving helps older people stay healthy because it gives them a sense of purpose and continuing independence. Seniors equate driving with independence.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study of older drivers in conjunction with Columbia University and found that when seniors stop driving they are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression and they are five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility. Most seniors are good drivers and nearly 81 percent of the seniors over 65 still drive.
What you need to examine is if there is a real reason for your parent to stop driving and perhaps consult with his/her physician. If you determine because of changes in eyesight, mental status (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia), chronic condition or medications s/he is on that your parent should stop driving, there are two things to do. One is to have his/her physician speak with your parent about the danger s/he may cause himself or others; and two, contact the local senior center or elder services (in Massachusetts, we have Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and a similar organization covering every town) for suggestions how to help him maintain your parent’s social networks. For example, can s/he afford senior independent or assisted living communities that have planned activities and a van to provide transportation? Does your town have a senior van service that will bring him or her to appointments, shopping or social activities? Nearly every city and town in Massachusetts has a Council on Aging and Senior Center. There are also senior centers in Salem, Windham and Seabrook, NH, and a regional senior center in Plaistow. Another greater resource in Massachusetts is The Ride, sponsored by the MBTA for those who are disabled or not able to use standard public transportation.
We take driving for granted every day. Once you take the keys away, there goes your parent’s feeling of independence and seniors do not like to be a burden on others. It also affects their ability to socialize, shop, and do all those things they enjoy. It affects their entire well-being, according to the AAA studies.
I hope you can evaluate if your parent is a competent driver or seek out services from someone who can help make that determination. AAA Roadwise Review is a free and easy self-assessment program that identifies barriers to safe driving. In 30 minutes or so, this self-assessment tool helps seniors determine their mental and physical abilities they need for safe driving. There are also special driving classes geared toward seniors offered by AAA’s Driver Improvement Program to help seniors stay on the road longer.
To stay mentally sharp, many seniors know doing crosswords or Sudoku, reading, exercising, volunteering, playing bridge and other card games and eating healthy can help maintain brain health. Any and all of these things will help maintain their ability to drive (It is part of the “use it or lose it” theory!) Also, have your parent’s physician evaluate any medications, as they may affect his ability to react quickly or feel alert.
If you parent is shaky from Parkinson’s Disease or other chronic condition, has poor vision or a health issue that requires him or her to drive less, it may make sense to limit driving locally and drive during daylight hours only. If you need to take the keys away, please contact elder service providers, speak to his or her physician and make a plan for alternate living or rides to help maintain his or her life as much as you can to continue the activities s/he most enjoys.
All of us at Jaffarian Volvo Toyota Scion wish you the best in making that decision and having that conversation with your parent. Balancing well-being with the safety of the roads is that ideal balance.