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Senior Care: When is someone too old to drive?

By Peter DiMaria

Home Helpers Senior Care Services can do the driving.

A real story about home care in Suffield CT

Jack*, one of our Home Helpers Home Care patients in Suffield, CT, is an independent 94 years old man who loves the independence that driving her car gives him. He loves to get his paper daily, then drives to the market to shop for groceries. He is used to driving everywhere: the barber shop, the bank and to the senior center. Jack was not very fond of having a caregiver in his home but started loving it since Mary started going there to do the laundry, prepare his food, and do other household chores.

More recently, Jack's daughter noticed there was a dent in his care. "It was a fender-bender, nobody got hurt", Jack said. A few weeks later, there was another dent, in the bumper.

Jack's daughter summoned him for the important conversation: it was time to surrender the car keys.

She said: "Dad, you have enough savings to pay for more caregiving hours. Mary can drive you anywhere you want. You keep your independence, your car, and your lifestyle. Now, imagine if something happens while you are driving and somebody gets hurt? You could be sued for negligence or worse, end up in a hospital bed."

As difficult as it was for Jack, he surrendered his car keys.

As a home care agency owner, I see stories like this happening all the time. 

According to AAA, in 2014, nearly 5,700 senior drivers were killed, and 221,000 were injured in traffic crashes. This number is only climbing as the years pass. Since older drivers are more fragile, their fatality rates are 17 times higher than those of 25- to 64-year-olds. In 2009, 33 million licensed drivers were over age 65 – a 20 percent increase from 1999.

Although Americans are healthier and living longer than ever before, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years. That is primarily due to impairments in three functions that are important for driving—vision, cognition, and motor function.

Home Care and 24 hr Care

In cases like Jack's, I always recommend hiring a caregiver to either drive the clients around or to run the errands for them. A caregiver for a few hours a day can do most of the tasks that require driving. Another option is to have a live-in caregiver moving in with your loved one. In this case, the caregiver is responsible for executing a comprehensive care plan for your loved one and will be able to drive whenever it is required: to run errands, go shopping, visiting the senior center, or going to doctor visits, for example.

When to Be Concerned

It can be hard to notice gradual changes in your loved one’s driving ability. By being aware of problematic behaviors, you will be able to have an open conversation with him, about the need to surrender the keys.

Here are a few of the driving behaviors that could be cause for concern:

  • Failing to stop at signs or red lights;
  • Recognizing stop signs and traffic signals;
  • Failing to yield the right of way at 4-way stops, left turns, intersections, or pedestrian crosswalks;
  • Cutting other drivers off when changing lanes;
  • Frequently crossing the lines that split the lanes;
  • Swerving or drifting into another lane when turning;
  • Driving too fast or too slow;
  • Getting lost frequently, even on previously known routes;
  • Mental fatigue and confusion while driving;
  • Difficulty judging distances between his and other vehicles.

In addition to these behaviors, if collisions, vehicle damage, or an increase in traffic violations occur, it's important to consider them as warning signs that action is needed.

Senior Care: Consider Your Options

There’s no reason your conversation with your loved one about driving should go poorly. Here are four steps to help to make it productive and to stay away from an adversarial tone:

  1. Consider your options. Do you think a refresher course would help your loved one to be more careful while driving or do you consider he should stop driving altogether?
  2. Have a Plan in Place – If you’re planning to take away some independence, how can you help return it? For example, you may consider hiring a caregiving agency to help your loved one to run errands and go to scheduled commitments;
  3. Start a Conversation ‒ One of the big obstacles to having this talk is our tendency to tell people what to do. The point of saying it’s a conversation is that we need to understand what the situation is from the older person’s perspective before we can even contribute to a solution or a recommendation. Ask open questions about the behaviors and skills mentioned above, to get your dad thinking about his safety and the need for changes;
  4. Involve a third party ‒ Many families turn to a neutral third party to evaluate a senior driver and help break the news to them that they should consider quitting driving. That can be a family doctor, an occupational specialist or a therapist who specializes in aging issues.
  5. Have his skills Instead of convincing your dad to quit driving, you may ask him or the DMV to retest his driving skills. A DMV retest may be recommended by a family member, physical or emergency medical technician, or peace officer. Other times, information in the license renewal application or on his driving record may prompt a retest.
  6. Consider hiring a caregiver to drive: A caregiver can help your loved one with daily chores that require driving. You may have the caregiver available for a few hours a day or opt for more affordable 24 hr home care. In this case, the caregiver would not only do the tasks that require driving but help with activities of daily living in the home, as well.

The DMV Can Be Reported

Unsafe senior drivers can be reported to the DMV by anybody. They may be asked to take a driving performance evaluation – to determine whether they can safely operate a motor vehicle. Failing this test, which may be given to drivers of any age, could result in their license being restricted, suspended or revoked.

* The client's name has been changed to preserve his identity.


Would you like to learn more about caregiving options to drive your loved one around? Call us for a free in-home care consultation:
(860) 698-2244 (CT)
(413) 224-1045 (MA)

Click here to read more about Home Helpers Senior Care in Suffield CT and region

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