It’s a fact of life that everyone gets older. With advancing age come changes in our physical, mental and sensory abilities. These changes are normal, but they can challenge a person's continued ability to drive safely. During the holiday season, many people visit their elderly loved ones and may discover that they need help to stay safe behind the wheel.
It’s tempting to put off a conversation about the driving abilities of an older family member or friend because you may be unsure how to start it, when to approach it, or how to remain respectful of your loved one. But it’s important not only for his or her safety, but also for the safety of everyone he or she shares the road with. Here’s how to get started.
Know what can affect an older driver.
As people age, changes to vision, hearing and reaction time can affect how a driver responds. Some medications can also affect a person’s driving. The Roadwise Rx tool from AAA allows you to see how medications can impact drivers. It’s a great resource for everyone who starts taking a new medication, regardless of age.
Focus on the facts.
Identify specific unsafe driving behaviors, not just your general concerns. "I’ve noticed that you don't look when backing up" is more constructive than saying, "I don't like the idea of you still driving." Never have these discussions while in the car.
Remember the point of the conversation.
Your aim should be to preserve your loved one’s dignity, independence, and safety, not solely to stop the person from driving. Ask your loved one to have a physical exam to determine whether changes are related to medication, nutrition, illness, injury, or are just changes related to aging.
Consider a Driver Safety Class.
These classes, offered in-person or online through AARP, provide a refresher on the rules of the road, new technologies available in cars, and how to adjust to common age-related driving challenges. This may help your loved one to drive for a while longer while planning for a future in which he or she can no longer safely get behind the wheel.
It can be difficult to imagine an active and engaged in life without the familiar option of driving. Many believe this change equates to a loss of independence. But by planning today, you can make tomorrow's transition easier.
South Shore Hospital hosts an AARP Driver Safety Class on Thursday, December 21 from 9:45am – 3pm. The classroom course costs $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members, and there are no official tests to pass in order to graduate from the program. To register, call (781) 624-4034, or click here for more information.