Here in Florida, we have a lot of senior citizens on the road. And despite the commonly accepted stereotype, most older adults have a safe driving record. Seniors usually no longer drink and, statistically, rarely drink and drive. Older adults are more likely to adhere to the speed limit, and they are not careless or reckless drivers. However, aging does cause some issues that can undoubtedly make driving a more dangerous activity for Mom or Dad as they grow older. Stiff joints or weak muscles can make it challenging to hold onto the steering wheel or depress the brake pedal, and vision problems would be self-explanatory. Still, deciding to stop driving once and for all is a very difficult milestone. No one looks forward to relinquishing their freedom and independence, and giving up your car means relying on others for all of your transportation. Family members understandably dread having this conversation with their parents, but it becomes a necessity at some point.
Here are some red flags to look for when debating the right time to require your loved one to forfeit their driving privileges.
Vision Problems: Any driver who has issues with their eyesight – no matter how old they are – will find it difficult to navigate hazardous conditions, traffic signs, obstacles on the road, or unpredictable motorist behaviors. However, aging drivers often are coping with additional levels of difficulty, including macular degeneration, glaucoma, or a decrease in their ability to see at night. Senior citizen motorists should have their eyesight examined on a semi-annual basis, looking for any changes in visual capability and screening for macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Maintaining eye health will also help senior citizens to avoid falling, which is the most common cause of injury in older adults.
Health Issues: A broad spectrum of health issues can detract from your loved one’s driving capability, judgment, and response time. Seniors with signs of memory loss or dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, arthritis, and diabetes may need to rethink getting behind the wheel. While living with one of these medical conditions doesn’t necessarily prevent driving, these issues can make driving exponentially more dangerous for the individual – and anyone else sharing the road with them.
Side Effects from Prescription Drugs: Many of the medications commonly prescribed to senior citizens can result in side effects that can make driving more perilous. These side effects may include feeling drowsy or experiencing blurry vision. Shaking, tremors and confusion are all common side effects of drugs, and most doctors agree that anyone who relies on narcotics or sleeping pills should give up the keys to their vehicle.
Hearing Loss: Many seniors experience hearing loss as they age, and minimal hearing impairment may not cause an issue. However, if they can no longer hear horns honking or sirens approaching an intersection, driving becomes more dangerous for everyone on the road. Make sure your aging parents have their hearing checked on a regular basis and look into getting a hearing aid if necessary. Most people will be able to discern a loved one’s hearing loss without too much trouble, just through conversations and daily life.
Anxiety or Fear: It is very common for older adults to begin to feel stress while performing activities they are very familiar with. Sometimes as they age, driving a car results in anxiety, fatigue, or confusion. If your mom or Dad returns home stressed and anxious, has gotten lost on routes they are familiar with, or blames other drivers for their errors in judgment, they may be too emotional to keep operating a vehicle. Sometimes your senior may gradually make this decision independently, as evidenced by turning down social events or refusing to drive after dark. Anxiety and fear usually indicate that your loved one is cognitively aware of their own declining abilities, and the final conversation regarding driving should be easier.
Is it Time to Stop Driving?
12 Warning Signs
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here are the top red flags in seniors:
- Drifting across or straddling lanes, or making abrupt lane changes without warning
- Driving through stop signs and traffic signals without stopping or acknowledging pedestrians or other vehicles
- Anxiety while in heavy traffic, getting disoriented in familiar areas, and not finding their way home
- Braking unexpectedly and without cause, driving too far under the posted speed limit
- Accelerating rapidly for no reason
- Bringing the car to a stop in moving traffic
- Backing up in traffic after missing a turn
- Inability to react promptly to simultaneous stimuli and visual cues
- Problems with back or neck flexibility, making it difficult to turn and see hazards around the vehicle
- Not properly utilizing turn signals or leaving signals on when no turn is imminent
- Increased “close calls” and “near misses”, dents or scrapes from hitting walls, curbs, mailboxes
- Two or more traffic warnings or tickets within two years
When a loved one stops driving, an assisted living community may provide the way of life they require. In such a setting, they will have the services and amenities they need to live every day, including transportation for shopping and doctor’s visits.
A Banyan Residence is an assisted living and memory care facility located in Venice, Florida.