When it comes to driving, how old is too old? It’s a painstaking debate that is often the impetus for moving a loved one into an assisted living or memory care community. The fallout of this dramatic decision is life changing.
For the loved one losing the ability to drive, it often symbolizes the end of his or her freedom. However, it is a resolution that may, in fact, protect both the individual, as well as those on the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 36 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the United States in 2012. That number continues to grow every year. Another notable statistic — the same year, there were at least 5,500 older adults who died in automobile accidents and more than 214,000 who were injured in car crashes.
Driver’s licenses don’t come with an expiration date. While some individuals may start experiencing difficulties behind the wheel in their 60s, others remain sharp as tacks well into their 80s or even 90s. In reality, age is just a number, one that shouldn’t be used to determine if someone should be driving. Whether or not a person should continue to drive depends largely on their faculties. Can they see? Can they hear? Do they still have a good reaction time?
Karen Hallenbeck is the executive director of Summit at Venice, one of Premier Senior Living, LLC’s assisted living and memory care communities. Premier Senior Living, LLC has assisted living and memory care communities throughout Florida, New York and Ohio. With more than 16 years of experience working in assisted living and memory care, Hallenback points out that the burden to take away a loved one’s license often falls upon family members, seeing how they are the first ones to detect deficiencies.
“Family members are usually the first to notice a decline in their loved ones reflexes, hearing, vision, difficulty walking, and in some cases, memory loss. We recommend that people share these concerns with their loved ones’ physicians. A physician can assist the family with the very hard discussion about ‘giving up’ up the driver’s license. The physician can also send information to the state requesting the removal of the license permanently,” says Hallenback, who also hosted the radio shows “Charlotte County Speaks,” “Did you Know?” and “Bradenton Speaks” and will soon be heard on WKDW 97.5 FM.
Hallenback explains that it is important for families to know what to look for. Here are some of the major red flags that indicate it may be time to take the keys:
- Vision problems. Eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma affect vision and can interfere with driving. As eyesight worsens, so does depth perception and judgment of speed. It also becomes more difficult to drive at night and adjust to the glare of the sun.
- Hearing issues. Our ability to hear declines as we age. One in three adults over the age of 65 suffers from hearing impairment. The inability to hear horns, sirens or any other warnings is a serious risk.
- Alzheimer’s or dementia. Memory problems can cloud judgment while driving. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals suffering from dementia may minimize the complexity of driving and overestimate their abilities. Studies also show people with Alzheimer’s are more likely to get into driving accidents. Both conditions affect concentration and reaction time.
- A number of prescription drugs have side effects, including drowsiness, that may affect driving abilities.
- Reaction time. As we age, it is difficult to process several things at one time, which is a must while driving. This can slow down reaction times and often leads to dangerous situations. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), a driver makes about 20 major decision for every mile driven and can have less than half a second to react to potential accidents.
- Mobility problems. Stiff muscles and joints can often impede mobility. When driving, a full range of motion is imperative.
If you aren’t sure whether any of these warning signs warrant the loss of driving privileges, it is a good idea to go along for the ride. Driving with your loved one will let you see his or her driving firsthand.
AAA lists the following warning signs that may indicate risky driving behaviors.
- Confusing the gas and brake pedals. If a driver lifts his or her leg to move from the gas to the brake instead of keeping the heel to the floor and pressing with the toes, it may indicate a loss of strength in the legs.
- Ignoring or missing stop signs or traffic signals. This may show the driver can’t stay on task or spot signs in a constantly moving visual field.
- Weaving in and out of lanes. When senior drivers signal incorrectly or not at all, it is an issue. Watch to make sure they still check mirrors and blind spots.
- Getting lost or disoriented, even in areas they know. If this occurs, it’s possible there are issues with working memory or cognitive decline.
- Driving lower than the speed limit. If cars are constantly honking and passing, it is possible the elderly driver is struggling to stay up to speed.
If your elderly loved one fits the bill on one or more of these driving behaviors, it’s time to assess the situation. Once family members agree the time has come to intervene, it is important to handle the situation with kid gloves. Hallenbeck stresses that this can be one of the most heartbreaking conversations family members ever have.
When broaching the topic, be as loving as possible. More than likely, family members may be resistant to the thought of no longer driving. Provide evidence in a kind, gentle manner. It is important to offer transportation alternatives: senior driving services, city buses, or rides from loved ones and neighbors. Involve a physician in the discussion, someone who also will validate concerns. If a loved one is worried about becoming a shut-in, consider exploring a bustling and lively assisted living or memory care community, which caters to individuals in these very situations.
Says Hallenbeck: “Moving to an assisted living community does have its advantages with the transportation issue. Our residents have the opportunity to decide when they would like to join other residents on lunch trips, shopping and excursions, relieving some of the burden on family members.”
If you want to learn more about memory care and assisted living communities in New York, Florida and Ohio and the transportation alternatives provided to residents, please contact us at 1-800-380-8908 or more information or to schedule a tour.