When asked “What is one of the leading causes for traffic accents?” Some people say inexperienced drivers while nearly all say elderly drivers. Age alone should not be the reason to stop driving. Loss of driving ability has been associated with depression and worsening physical impairments in older people. Losing one’s “independence” often creates a downward spiral. Since driving is a part of everyday life, how will they get themselves to church, to the store or to visit friends? Socializing should not be halted. After all, what else is there for them to do, now that they don’t have to punch a time clock. You can only watch so many episodes of Golden Girls before you wish you were dead.
Honestly, unless someone lives in a metropolitan area with easy access to public transportation, how else will they get around? And, even so, if one is disoriented, getting off at the wrong bus stop can be a frightening and traumatic experience. Vision problems interfere with a person’s ability to see the road and avoid objects and other vehicles. Hearing problems, the effect of a stroke and even arthritis can impair a person’s ability to perform the mechanics of driving. So why not look into improving the elderly driver’s physical abilities? If they can’t react as fast and/or have trouble seeing, perhaps cataracts are to blame. A good eye doctor can evaluate this issue and repair it. It’s probably not a bad idea to get them in for a new prescription and new frames, although the frames they’ve been wearing since the 70’s are probably coming back in style now. Physical therapy or even a good personal trainer at a nearby gym will strengthen arms, hands and legs which will aid in quicker reaction time and braking strength. Doing Yoga helps with balance and coordination. Maybe even staying off of the high speed highways and sticking to slower roads is a good start. Getting medications evaluated by their physician and having dosages adjusted if needed may help. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) states that more than 85% of Americans 65 and older continue to drive. But vulnerability and risk rise with age. For drivers 85 and up, the fatality rate is nine times higher than for drivers between the ages of 25 and 69. Because of osteoporosis, fragile bones are more likely to fracture in a collision. And seniors are more susceptible to aortic rupture with chest trauma from a steering wheel or air bag, according to the Clinician’s Guide for Seniors.
It’s probably a good idea to have their physician bring it up to them if you are concerned that they should no longer be driving. Perhaps each time they go in for a visit, urge the doctor to ask questions about how their driving is going. When it’s time for them to hand in the keys, the subject will have already been broached and the doctor can restrict their patient’s driving privileges and you won’t have to be the bad guy.
Until next week…
Daun Thompson
Writer / Comedienne / Artist