Driving safety is a common worry for adult children of aging relatives. By 2020 there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers on the road age 65 and older. When was the last time you rode with your mom or dad and concluded that it was time for the “car keys” conversation? Did you check in first with your siblings, partner, neighbors, friends? Were you brave enough to address your concerns about driving safety only to start an argument or worse? Do you notice new dings and dents on the car when you visit? Have you read stories about older adults with cognitive decline that ended in a car crash or even loss of life?
How can the topic of driver safety be addressed respectfully and honestly with your aging loved ones?
Your family doctor is an excellent first contact. She/he will listen to your concerns, the patient’s concerns, may screen for cognitive and functional decline, and possibly write an order for occupational therapy. Ask for a driving assessment if the doctor doesn’t mention it.
In the Raleigh/Durham, NC community an excellent resource is available. The Duke University Health System Driving Program offers a clinical evaluation that “assists in identifying potential safety factors of the driving process, as well as identify factors which may impact driving abilities”. All testing is done in the clinic, and takes approximately 2 -3 hours to complete. The path to the program is through an order from a primary care doctor. The results are objective and recommendations are made by health professionals, including occupational therapists and doctors, working as a team.
Results do not necessarily mean handing over the car keys. The driving assessment may advise restrictions such as daylight driving only, limited radius, no highways, etc., or may give a thumbs up and a green light. Many older adults self limit their driving, choosing to no longer drive at night, to avold interstate highways, etc. Driver refresher courses are offered through community programs, AARP, etc.