At some point, seniors will lose the ability to drive safely on their own.
The changes that occur to the body, as well as mental acumen with age, can make driving dangerous, not just for your elderly loved ones, but also for others who use the road. Being old does not automatically make an older adult a bad driver. However, vision loss, reduced hearing, joint stiffness, and muscle pain can all impair their capacity to drive.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, in 2019 alone, 8,000 adults aged 65 and up were killed in traffic accidents. More than 250,000 had to be treated in emergency departments for car crash injuries.
Driving allows people to be mobile and move independently through their community. It is how they can easily and comfortably get groceries or medication, meet with family and friends, etc. So, when they have to stop driving, they lose opportunities to socialize, do simple daily tasks, or have physical activities. They will become more likely to be stuck at home, alone and lonely, which can affect their physical and mental health.
Signs to Stop
Not all older adults should be barred from driving, but those who are already experiencing health conditions that impair their ability to drive should no longer get behind the wheel. Certain illnesses such as dementia should stop driving on their own. If it is not an underlying health condition, the medication they take may compromise their capacity to operate a vehicle. Many medications cause drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, tremors, confusion, and other side effects. It is best that they stay home or ask someone else to drive them to their destination.
Both vision and hearing impairment should also be taken as a sign that they should no longer drive.
There are also signs that seniors should step away from the driver’s seat such as damage to the vehicle. While it is normal for cars to have minor scratches, several dents could indicate driving mishaps. If these accidents happen far too often, it would be better for your loved ones to stop driving before they get into a crash.
Getting Used to a Life Without Driving
Believe it or not, many seniors struggle when they are told that they can no longer drive. Previous studies have found that, when older adults are forced to surrender their car keys, their risk of experiencing symptoms of depression rises. They are also more likely to develop health problems that can lead to death.
People associated driving with having control over their own lives. So, when their driving privileges are revoked, they feel that their independence is being taken away, too.
It is important to communicate to seniors that, even if they are no longer able to drive, they can still move around and do their daily activities. They can go shopping, meet family and friends, attend appointments and events, and be involved within their community.
The Alternatives to Driving
Seniors deserve a way to move around comfortably and independently even if they are no longer capable of driving. In some cities, the public transportation system is good enough to ferry the elderly population to and from their destinations safely and without hassle. There are also carpool services operated by Uber and Lyft that are convenient options for those who do not have their own vehicles.
Many retirement communities offer their own shuttle services to aid residents to move around the entire facility and go to other nearby locations. This is how important choosing the right facility for a senior loved one is. The facility should have programs that are appropriate for the resident’s lifestyle, medical, and other needs. Families can discuss which living arrangement is right for a retiree with a local senior living advisor.
In addition, most cities have volunteer programs that specifically aid seniors in travel between destinations. These services typically charge lower than a cab, and they are more reliable. Moreover, volunteer drivers create better connections with their senior passengers. In many cases, the volunteer driver will interact with and get to know their senior passenger, eventually becoming friends with them.
Although the technology is still far away, in the future, self-driving cars will grant seniors the independence of moving around using their own vehicles. Self-driving cars are currently still being tested and improvements are still being made, but multiple manufacturers are developing their own with the hopes to deploy the technology.
Many Americans drive their own vehicles to do their errands, visit their loved ones, commute to and from work, and travel to a holiday destination. However, at some point, because of age or health conditions, they will be forced to give up driving for their own safety. It is comforting to know that, despite not being able to drive, people will continue to have the option to move around.