By: Myles McNamara
This is a hard question to answer, whether for yourself or for a loved one. Driving represents a huge piece of our independence, and to surrender that ability is one of the toughest decisions we have to make.
I can remember having this conversation with a loved one. He was starting to make poor decisions while driving, and, of course, it was always the other driver at fault. The car was starting to have more little dents and scratches that were unexplainable. He offered to ride around on a riding lawn mower to get more practice if I would just let him continue driving. He couldn’t understand that my concern was for his safety and for others.
The ability to recognize the danger of driving to ourselves or others is not always apparent and can be perceived as independence being stripped from us. Some people give up their keys without much trouble as they accept the reality of their situations, but others make it a huge ordeal.
There are some important tools we can use to evaluate a loved one’s ability to continue driving.
• Evaluate overall health. What is the person’s health history? What is his current health? Does he have any physical limitations? It is a good idea to have a conversation with the doctor to find out if any physical limitations would affect his driving ability. Also make sure to ask if any medications would affect his eyesight, cognitive thinking and motor skills.
• Eyesight. There are many diseases that affect our vision as we age. Diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts all impair good eyesight.
Our peripheral vision and ability to see at a distance diminishes as we age. And our eyes need more light to see as we age, which presents a problem with night driving. Aging eyes also become sensitive to light, creating distractions with glares and reflections.
• Cognitive thinking. Slower reactions to what we see while driving is a common problem as we age. Many health issues such as stroke and circulatory problems reduce blood flow to the brain and can cause poor cognitive thinking. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological problems and medications can also reduce good decision-making.
• Motor skills. As we age, our muscles and joints start to lose the ability to respond as quickly. Simple movements like applying the brakes can take longer and create unsafe driving conditions. The response time is diminished, and with it goes our ability to respond to emergencies.
When the only option is to take away the keys, please remember to be very conscious of what this decision means to your loved one. Allow feelings and reactions to this decision. The ability to accept the finality will be much easier if you offer compassion, love, concern and trust. A recommendation from the physician can be a tremendous support. Be prepared with workable solutions that will help your loved one maintain all the independence to which he is accustomed.
Remember that some day you may be in this same place, so you should handle it in the way you would want it to be presented to you.
Myles McNamara, owner of Comfort Keepers In-Home Care, is a Certified Senior Advisor and works professionally with the elderly on issues relating to senior independence. He can be reached at 661 287-4200.