Stranded on the interstate in traffic, she argued incessantly with him that it was illegal and dangerous to simply turn the car around and head back home in the same lane. In a sudden bout of anger and impatience, he seemed to think it was perfectly normal to drive directly into oncoming traffic. His main concern was finding another way to church in an effort not to be late. Luckily for them a police officer nearby pulled him over and set him straight before any real damage was done. I’ll never forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when my grandmother shared this horrifying story with me on our way home from visiting my grandfather in the nursing home several years ago. In all my years of thinking they’d live until their hearts weren’t strong enough to beat anymore, it never crossed my mind that a moment of confusion could take them from me in the blink of an eye.
The changes of normal aging can often interfere with the ability to drive. Driving is a complex function and it’s important to be alert for changes in yourself and others that might indicate it’s time to stop driving.
Warning signs of unsafe driving
On the road – Abrupt movements such as lane changes, braking or accelerating. Drifting into other lanes or driving on the wrong side of the road. Failing to use the turn signal or keeping the signal on without changing lanes.
Reflexes – Slow reaction to changes while driving. Confusing the two pedals or difficulty moving from the gas to the brake pedal. Trouble reading signs or navigating. Issues looking over the shoulder or moving the hands or feet.
Memory – Getting lost frequently. Missing highway exits or backing up after missing an exit. Problems paying attention to signals, signs, pedestrians or pavement markings.
Increased citations – Increased traffic tickets or warnings. More frequent “close calls,” dents and scratches on the car from fences, garage doors, curbs and mailboxes.
Driver safety is often a sensitive issue for older adults. Even after this incident, my grandmother was unable to convince my grandfather to give up the keys. What he didn’t know was that giving up the keys didn’t mean he had to give up his independence. With a positive attitude and often by simply reaching out to others, there may even be a sense of relief to have someone else help make the decision to stop driving. It is a privilege not everyone relinquishes willingly, but is certainly necessary if the safety of self and others are being compromised. It might be easier to adjust by keeping the car and have others drive it to decrease the sense of loss. On the other hand, giving up the car could save a great deal of money (car insurance, maintenance etc.). Keep in mind groceries can be delivered and shopping is easily done over the internet. However, it is vital to get out of the house not only to run errands, but to stay socially active. There are many alternative ways to get around without a car to ensure life remains as normal as possible.
Modes of transportation without a car
• Public transportation – buses, subways and light rail
• Community shuttles
• Private drivers
• Taxis, limousines and chauffeur services
• Specialized transit for seniors
• Ride-sharing with friends and relatives
• Bicycles or adult tricycles
• Motorized wheelchairs
Check your local resources for options including senior centers and service agencies, hospital discharge planning departments, volunteer transportation programs, faith-based organizations or city and county officials.
Overlooking problems that develop over time, like vision/hearing loss or forgetfulness, happens due to the way we acclimate our daily activities to what we can comfortably do. Don’t wait for problems to become serious out on the interstate jeopardizing you or your loved ones. Tend to your health and talk to your doctor regularly in an effort to stay mobile and independent.
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