“If you think that your loved one may be a danger to themselves or others while behind the wheel, it is time to have a frank, but compassionate discussion with them.”
From the time we are teenagers, the automobile has been the ultimate symbol of freedom. We have the license to drive anywhere and everywhere. As a result, we are the masters of our own destiny. We use the car to run errands, go on road trips, commute to work and visit family and friends. At some point, however, we slow down and it comes time to relinquish the keys. This is often a sad day for everyone involved. No one wants to be the one to take away that freedom from a loved one. However, for the safety of you and everyone on the road, it is a decision that must be made, when we exhibit certain signs.
How We Age Affects Our Driving Ability
As we age, certain mental and physiological changes happen that can affect our ability to drive. When these changes become too severe, accidents can happen and people can be hurt or killed. These changes can include:
- Vision – as our distance vision is hampered, we cannot see things until they are right upon us. This reduces our ability to react and avoid an accident.
- Joint Issues – inflamed joints can lead to reduced range of motion, affecting our ability to turn our heads to check mirrors and blind spots. Shoulder and elbow problems can make steering difficult. Knee and hip issues can affect braking and accelerating.
- Hearing Issues – losing the ability to hear some or all frequencies impacts our capacity to hear horns, sirens and other indications that danger is near.
- Slowed Reflexes – when our reflexes slow down, we can no longer respond quickly to emergency situations, like avoiding a darting pedestrian, cyclist or pet.
- Coordination Changes – reduction in eye hand coordination and coordination , can make controlling a vehicle more difficult.
- Mental Decline – while we may still be smart as a tack, other things such as multitasking, locating signs, observing lights and signals may become more difficult.
- Dementia – suddenly forgetting where we are can be frightening, but doing so behind the wheel can be deadly.
Prescription Drugs Affect Driving Ability
Just like driving under the influence of illegal drugs can cause accidents, so too may driving under the influence of legal prescription drugs, like pain killers and muscle relaxants.
At the first sign of mental or physical decline, it is critical to observe how your aging loved one can respond to the rigors of driving a vehicle. If you think that your loved one may be a danger to themselves or others while behind the wheel, it is time to have a frank, but compassionate discussion with them about relinquishing the car keys.
References: Seniors: When To Turn Over The Car Keys (6/2017) http://www.dmv.org/how-to-guides/senior-driving.php