July 17, 2008
Editor’s note: MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest. It brings together professionals and lay leaders from UJC agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue. This month’s column is presented by Metro Transport, a not-for-profit program operated by Daughters of Israel and serving senior citizens and disabled adults. Jewish Family Service of MetroWest collaborates with the Metro Transport program; this month’s column was written jointly by staff from both agencies.
I have been driving for over 60 years; why should I even think about stopping now?
How will I get around without a car?
How can I possibly take away my mother’s keys?
Such questions drive home a crucial point: Is it safe for older adults to drive? The answer is often yes, but senior citizens, health care providers, and family members should be aware of conditions that can have an impact on the driving abilities of mature adults.
Risks and warning signs
Ninety percent of driving abilities come from vision. Older adults are more prone to macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. In addition, arthritis, decreased reflexes, reduced flexibility, increased reaction time, and even certain medications can impair the ability to drive safely.
The American Academy of Neurology recommends that adults diagnosed with mild dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease not drive and that older adults with mild cognitive impairment be evaluated every six months.
What are some signs that indicate an older adult’s driving ability may be affected by age-related changes?
- Difficulty turning, especially when backing up and making left turns
- Difficulty maintaining concentration
- Responding slowly to unexpected situations
- Signaling incorrectly
- Parking inappropriately
- Misjudging distance: hitting curbs, mailbox, or garage
- Increased agitation or irritation when driving
- Failure to notice traffic signs or hazards
- Near misses or actual accidents
- Driving at unsafe speeds or “riding the brake”
- Moving into wrong lane, difficulty maintaining lane position
- Confusion at exits, getting lost in familiar places
- Ticketed moving violations/warnings, failure to stop at stop sign/red light
- Mistaking the gas and brake pedals
- Stopping in traffic for no reason
It is important to address these signs when they are noticed and discuss concerns with a health care provider.
It is recommended that discussions about a senior’s driving destiny begin before major problems occur. Older drivers often have preferences about who should initiate such a discussion. Married drivers prefer that their spouse open the conversation, while seniors who live alone prefer that their doctor, adult children, or friends initiate it. Women tend to be more receptive to their adult children. Looking at past experiences and personalities is also critical when making the choice of who should initiate these talks.
Harriet Vines, author of Age Smart: How To Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy (Llumina Press), offers these suggestions:
- Be empathetic. Imagine how you would feel if you were in your parent’s place.
- Build a case. Keep a record of traffic tickets, fender-benders, or other incidents.
- Arrange an open meeting with concerned family members to help, not confront, the driver. Keep communications honest, open, and non-accusatory.
- Plan a gradual curtailment of driving. For example, no children in the car, no highways, no driving above 45 miles per hour.
- Agree on circumstances that will signal when it is time to give up the car keys.
Many older adults fear that if they surrender their driver’s license, they will be stranded without other means of transportation. People wonder how they will get to the doctor or the supermarket?
If it’s time for your parent or loved one to stop driving, it is crucial to research other transportation options before speaking with them about curtailing their driving.
Within the MetroWest community there are a number of transportation programs to assist non-drivers or those who wish to drive less frequently. These include private companies, not-for-profit agencies, county and municipal transportation programs, and shuttles offered by synagogues, churches, senior centers, or local agencies on aging.
To learn more about locally available transportation alternatives, contact Rina Lubliner at 973-400-3394 or RLubliner@doigc.org.
Rina Lubliner is program administrator for Metro Transport at Daughters of Israel in West Orange. Amanda Kielbania is a social worker at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions and help with community resources can contact Elderlink, a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink can be reached at 973-765-9050, ext. 511, or email@example.com.