|By Rich O'Boyle, Editor
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It is a painful decision for a caregiver to take away the care keys from
their aged parent or relative. Remember when they were teaching you how to drive and
restricting your use of the car? This is one of those times when roles are reversed and
the issues are painful and complex.
How can you prevent a terrible car accident injury to
you or a loved one, an innocent pedestrian or serious property damage? As people age,
their senses may become dulled and their reflexes slowed. And behind the wheel of an
automobile, those become liabilities. Some medications that seniors may be on may also
impair their ability to safely drive.
Not all senior citizens are dangerous drivers, but they do
tend to be slower drivers. When other cars are speeding past or going just above the speed
limit, that can lead to unfortunate clashes and frustration. Not to mention serious bodily
The signs of impaired driving ability may be hidden
you may not be in the car with them all the time to see it. But the problems are there
shifting between lanes, drowsiness, poor vision (especially at night), ignored
signs and signals, unexplained dents and dings, traffic tickets.
If you suspect that your elder is having difficulty
concentrating while driving, you have some responsibility to act. But be careful to
balance your concerns with your elders sense of independence and maturity.
- Have your elder enroll in a safe driving course Some
adult education programs offer them and AARP offers them in most metropolitan areas. You
can get valuable tips and perhaps lower insurance rates. An impartial, authoritative
instructor may be able to influence your elder if you cant.
- Arrange to have both a general physical and an eye exam
Talk to the doctor beforehand about your concerns; and then raise the same concerns during
the exam. Ask for the input of the physician while your elder is present. An
ophthalmologist can determine whether your elder meets the visual standards for his/her
state. If correction is not possible, it may be best to turn in the drivers license.
Docotrs may now confidentially alert state motor vehicle authorities if they suspect a
person is too impaired to drive.
- Respect you elders right to drive Your elder has
a right to drive, but that is contingent on competency. If he/she is clearly not capable
of driving safely, convey your concerns that a failure to act responsibly can lead to
negative results. These could include injury to his/herself, innocent bystanders or
property leading to charges of involuntary manslaughter.
- Limit time and stress behind the wheel -- Try to limit your
elders driving to weekends when there may be less traffic, or to areas and roads
where the pace is slower or there are fewer pedestrians. Do not let him/her drive alone
when possible. Suggest that you drive more often and that he/she come along for the ride.
- Help him/her remain independent -- The car may be the only way
that he/she can get out of the house and retain a sense of independence. Homebound seniors
are more depressed, lonelier and may decline in health more rapidly. Balance your need to
time for yourself and your family with your ability to drive your elder whenever he/she
needs to. Look into public transportation and senior center shuttles.
- Appeal to your elder's pocketbook -- Break down the cost of
owning and maintaining a car and compare that cost with taxi service, senior citizen buses
and local transportation.
- Report him/her to authorities This is an unpopular and
extreme course of action. You may feel compelled to notify your state Department of Motor
Vehicles that your elder is an unsafe driver. You might bring this up if your state has
regular testing and renewal requirements.