At age 89 my father was in the habit of taking a daily drive. He was able to care of his home and did all his lawn care, he was responsible, meticulous and a very sensible man. My brother and I began to notice changes in his memory. We did not yet know that he had a brain tumor. One day, I passed him on the street and he was doing the “older” driver thing of driving too close to the curb and having to inch back toward the center line when approaching a parked car along the street. I knew it was time to restrict his driving.
He was thrilled when his license was renewed, although the clerk at the license bureau had to help him recognize some of the road signs. Had he been denied a renewal it may have been easier to get him to stop driving.
One day after his daily drive, he could not get the keys out of his truck. He had forgotten to put the truck in “park” and therefore the safety device would not release the keys. The danger of him driving within the next few days could have been disastrous because of the brain tumor which took his life in three weeks.
Seventy-five percent of American drivers over the age of 70 have a valid driver’s license. As we age our vision and neuromuscular skills diminish, which lowers our response time. Other abilities such as memory, depth perception, reasoning and quick thinking declines.
Those with mild dementia are high-risk drivers although most are able to pass a driving test. Drivers with dementia may not remember when or how to stop. Other ailments can impede the ability to drive safely. Vision problems such as glaucoma or cataracts may restrict the ability to read road signs soon enough to react. Other health conditions such as arthritis, angina, diabetes, and neurological conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s disease may make a driver unsafe behind the wheel.
Family members and caregivers should discuss the driving ability and health of the older family members that are still driving. Take a ride with the person in question, to get a feel for their ability to drive safely. Consult an attorney for the legal consequences of a crash or injury and check with the state laws regarding restrictions for older drivers. For specifics in your state check the following website:
To assure safety for your loved ones, arrange for other transportation and take away the keys to all the vehicles that may be involved.
Source: Personal experience, Consumer Reports, January 2011