When to decide it’s time to hang up the car keys for good is a difficult and often tense discussion topic adult children or other loved ones must one day have with their aging parent or family member. It not only signify’s one’s own mortality but can be a significant loss of independence and means of staying socially connected with community. For seniors living in rural areas or sprawling suburbs without access to public transportation, it can also lead to a decline in health when older adults skip doctor appointments, refilling prescriptions or buying groceries when they have no transportation plan in place.
But difficult as talking about giving up driving may be, it’s important for family caregivers to pay attention if cognitive abilities in older adults start to show signs of decline. CTVNews recently reported that according to Transport Canada data, more seniors died in traffic accidents between 2000 and 2015 than any other age group across the country. And seniors have consistently been top of the list for the most driver fatalities since 2010, which is a relatively new statistic that could be accounted for by the rising number of aging baby boomers.
Older drivers may have poorer eyesight, especially at night, and physical or cognitive problems associated with aging that lead to accidents. But they may also be more frail and at greater risk for serious injury or death following a car crash. In some cases, while seniors may start exhibiting signs of cognitive decline that are obvious to their family or doctor, they still pass their driver’s test and continue to fight to keep driving even when they pose a risk to themselves and others.
Before starting a conversation about stopping driving, come prepared with an alternative transportation plan or several plans to help alleviate the uncertainty and stress involved with a loss of independence. It may also be a good idea to involve a trusted doctor to help an older adult come to terms with the idea of stopping driving and understand why it may be necessary. Sometimes hearing hard facts from a respected individual outside the family is more well received.
Not all seniors are a hazard on the road but many could use a refresher course to sharpen their skills, especially if they are recovering from an injury or illness and haven’t been driving recently. If you experience some of the warning signs of unsafe driving such as losing your way, a loss of confidence, missing stop signs, minor accidents, trouble merging or passing or notice others are honking at you, it may be time to make some changes. An occupational therapist can help you evaluate your driving capacity and suggest changes that will make you safer on the road or help find alternative options.
To learn more about safe driving, visit the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists website here. For more information about a driver refresher course near you, follow this link to the Canadian Safety Council website.