Time to surrender the car keys?

If you’ve had trouble keeping track of your route, occasionally “bump” into a stationary object or find yourself distracted by congestion and other drivers’ speed while driving, you have lots of company. First: People are driving faster. The Columbus Dispatch reported that during six months of 2020, people driving more than 80 mph increased by 30 percent, and during that period, Ohio State Troopers issued 2,200 tickets across the state for drivers traveling over 100 mph!  Through September of 2021, 2,870 citations have been issued to people in Ohio driving over 100 mph. All while road construction delays and limitations continue to be a major issue.

But forgetting where you are or scratches or dents on the car may indicate a more serious problem.  If you wonder if perhaps it’s not safe for you to drive anymore or your loved ones have had “the discussion” about you continuing to drive, it may be worth considering hanging up the keys.

Hazards for aging drivers
Overall, people aged 70 and older accounted for less than 1 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, when viewed according to miles traveled, fatal crash rates increase noticeably starting at age 70-74 and are especially high among drivers 85 and older.

The AARP explains that natural changes that occur in our brains and our bodies as we age affect our abilities as drivers. But the decision concerning whether it’s time to limit or stop driving is not about age – it’s about the driver’s ability.

Driving, cognition testing helps
An annual doctor’s checkup can uncover changes in cognition that can affect driving ability. Melissa Weisz, site leader at ProMedica Total Rehabilitation at Flower Hospital, explained that older drivers will be assigned to an occupational therapist after testing by their family physician. “In addition to testing, drivers can be referred after an accident, or if they have memory issues,” she said. A change in medical status – injury, medical condition (such as stroke) or other disabilities – can also warrant a visit to the clinic for evaluations of vision, reaction time, memory and following directions. “We also use a driving simulator that tests braking and getting around obstacles,” Weisz said. 

The testing then moves on to actual driving. “We start with driving around the parking lot, and then take the older driver on the local streets where they normally drive,” Weisz explains. Testing is scored objectively, with results reported back to the physician for further action, if needed.

Likewise, Mercy Health’s driver evaluation and training program at St. Charles Hospital offers clinical, simulation and vehicle assessment and training for participants. Occupational Therapist and Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist Lynn Chapman is particularly enthusiastic about the program’s simulator. “The simulator uses 90 drives over three different levels, testing and training participants various skills,” she said. “We can begin the simulator training at the level where the individual is driving today, and progress from there.” Additionally, The University of Toledo Medical Center also offers a similar driving assessment and training program.  

Having “the talk” with a family member
Limiting or stopping the driving of a loved one is a serious and emotional decision.  It represents a loss of independence and mobility.

AARP offers an online training program, “We Need to Talk,” that provides families with tips to help with the conversation concerning driving with suggestions to  help alleviate the frustration, isolation and anger older drivers may feel about slowing down their driving.  

Using objective observations, and independent assessments, family members can document problems and help older adults to reach a safe decision. “Older drivers can be in denial, but these tests are objective, and provide the truth about their driving skills,” explains ProMedica’s Weisz.

“I’ve seen family relationships go back and forth over this,” said Mercy’s Chapman. “It’s better for us to take it out of the family’s hands. With evaluation, we can determine whether a condition is remediable or not.”

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