How Aging Can Impact Driving Ability
Aside from living on their own, another task that many seniors associate with independence is driving. They are often reluctant to give up the car keys because they want to continue being able to come and go as they please. However, there comes a time when this is no longer a safe option and they should not be driving themselves. April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and a great time to review some of the ways that aging can affect driving ability.
For seniors, texting and driving is not always the greatest concern, though this can be an issue depending on how tech savvy they are. It’s still a good idea to remind them to put down the phone and deal with it after they have arrived at their destination. If they are using it for GPS, they should make sure the trip is entered before they leave and that the sound is turned up so they can hear directions.
But there are plenty of other issues seniors may face when it comes to aging and driving:
Slower reflexes: As people age, their reflexes and response times get slower. It can take longer for them to process what is happening and shift their foot to the brake or swerve to avoid hitting something. That can make all the difference between avoiding an accident and being part of one.
Vision problems: If your aging parent can’t see as clearly anymore, it can be easy to miss street signs, not see another car, misread a speed limit, or not see obstacles, objects, or people in their path. This can be very dangerous when driving and put not only your loved one but others at risk.
Memory problems: Whether they struggle with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or just occasional forgetfulness, it can make driving more difficult. Seniors may forget where they’re going, where they are, or how to get home. They may become confused by traffic, detours, construction, or just the general changing of the landscape around them (e.g.—the restaurant they always turned at gets knocked down or something else is put in its place).
Medications: Depending on what medications your aging parent is taking, it can also affect their driving. Some medicines cause drowsiness, slow reaction times, or other side effects that can make getting behind the wheel dangerous.
The car itself: Cars can be confusing with so many buttons and switches and features. Trying to change the radio station or adjust the air conditioning can be distracting enough to lead to an accident. Plus, if there are bags or items in the passenger seat or back seat that shift around while driving, they can be distracting, too.
There is no specific age limit for driving, and it all comes down to each person and their abilities. It is important to regularly check in with your parent as they age, ride along with them, and check the car for damage to determine if whether or not it is still safe for them to get behind the wheel. If they are concerned about losing their independence, set them up with an in-home caregiver who can support them with tasks around the home so they can continue to age in place, and who can also give them rides wherever they may want to go. Just because they can’t drive anymore doesn’t mean they have to be stuck at home.