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“It is easy to say, ‘just give up the keys’. It is important for me to stay active, and if I don’t drive I am stuck in the house forever. I can’t live that way.” – Quote from older adult driver
“I am worried about my dad. He has had several ‘fender benders’ over the past year. There is always a good reason, but this never happened before. I am worried about his safety, and the safety of others. But it is so hard to bring this up. Driving is the key to his independence. He would go right down the tubes if he couldn’t get out of the house.” – Quote from family caregiver
“The good news is that people who keep track of changes in their eyesight, physical fitness and reflexes may be able to adjust their driving habits so they stay safe on the road.” – Quote from the US Department of Transportation/NHTSA
On December 2nd we recognize Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. This is a great week to get more immersed in the needs of older adults and their family caregivers. This is also a great time share best practice tools and approaches that drive independence, safety and quality of life.
I have been very fortunate to spend many years working with older adults and have benefited from important conversations related to the issue of safe driving. Many of the older adults I spoke with lamented that most articles are written about the older adult, as if the older adults aren’t reading. It was also common for older adults to become very defensive when reading/hearing that they cannot drive safely. I wonder if we have done enough to truly understand the needs of older adults with respect to driving decisions. The quotes above captured the dilemma that we face with this important issue.
Older adults value work and volunteerism
A recent study published in Gerontology (Curl, A. 2013) entitled, “Giving Up the Keys: How Driving Cessation Affects Engagement in Later Life,”offers results from a study of the impact of driving cessation on 4,788 older adults. This study found that the greatest impact for older adults was the inability to maintain valued volunteer and work activities. Most people would assume that the greater impact would be with social activities, but this was not the case. This article demonstrates the benefits of assessing for the educational, emotional and mobility needs of older adults.
Proactive discussion and planning are critical
The study mentioned above offers that proactive discussion and planning between older adults and their family/professional caregivers often drives the most positive outcomes. However, discussion and planning are easier said than done. I think that there is often a disconnect between older adults, family caregivers and primary care providers. Older adults are often reluctant to share their concerns, for fear that they will have to “give up the keys.” Family caregivers often feel a great sense of guilt and anxiety when approaching their parent/grandparent about driving concerns. Primary care providers also find it difficult to assess and manage driving challenges given the complexity of the situation and brevity of office visits.
By Christopher G. Kelly, writer for Senior Care Advice