Mary G., 72, was the primary caretaker and chauffeur for her 78-year-old husband who suffered from declining vision and heart problems. Although Mary was in excellent physical and mental health, she started having small fender-benders on a fairly regular basis.
Mary's family soon noticed the dents and scratches on her car and suggested she have her reflexes tested. When the tests showed some decline in responses, they discussed how she might get along without a car. Mary and her husband decided to sell their suburban house and take an apartment in the city, which offered more public transportation options.
If you are concerned about your driving ability or your loved one's driving ability, then you may want to ask the following questions:
Too many yes answers could mean that you or your loved one may not be able to handle a vehicle in an emergency situation. It isn't a good idea to rely solely on the state agency that tests drivers and issues driver's licenses. Drivers with reflex problems may still be able to squeak by and pass the test.
To get a better idea of driving skills, rehabilitation centers and insurance companies offer tests that objectively rate driving ability. Moreover, some senior centers, hospitals, retirement communities, and civic organizations offer driver improvement programs for seniors.
The primary care doctor can also let you or your loved one know when it is time to think about giving up the car. The doctor will consider muscle strength, eye sight, reflexes, and general overall health, along with questions about close calls in traffic.
If you notice that your loved one's car is getting bumped and dented, it may be a good time to gently assess the situation. Talk about the new dents and scratches that you've noticed on the car and ask what's been happening. Your loved one may be relieved to talk about it.
Buses, taxis, and vans operated by senior citizen centers, hospitals, municipal transportation systems, and retirement centers can help your loved one get around. Many seniors also count on family and friends for rides. Dena S., a woman who stopped driving about two years ago has a standing date with her 25-year-old granddaughter.
"She picks me up on Saturday mornings and I have a list of errands that I need to do. We finish up around noon and I take her to lunch. It gives us an opportunity to catch up on family gossip, her life, and it makes me feel young again."
For seniors on a fixed income, giving up the car is also cost effective. When you add up all the costs associated with owning your own car, it is usually much more cost-effective to take a taxi.
Not all seniors need to give up driving, though. The AAA Foundation for Safety points out that age should never be used as the main reason why a person needs to give up driving. A range of other factors, like vision, hearing, and reflexes, should be taken into consideration.
Ontario Ministry of Transportation
Drivers 65 plus: suggestions for improvement. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website. Available at: https://www.aaafoundation.org/drivers-65-plus-suggestions-improvement. Accessed October 14, 2013.
How's my driving? Michigan.gov website. Available at: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ElderlyDriving_0909_84709_7.pdf. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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