CONTINUE DRIVING, OR NOT: SENIOR CITIZEN CONCERNS

Oct 14th, 2012 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

Driving: Top Concern of Seniors

Here we go again.  Probably the top concern of seniors and their families is whether or not to continue driving. We all know many seniors see driving as the signature sign of independence.  This senior and her family have had several experiences with elders driving, and think you might find them helpful.  Names are changed to protect and respect senior identify.

A number of years ago, Ruby (age 85) was still driving.  She lived alone and drove mostly to the grocery store, church and to visit friends.  We had the ‘driving’ talk with her, and she insisted she could still drive and was safe.  We had our doubts.  Then one day a cousin called and reported that he had observed her driving after dark, with no headlights on.  We had the ‘driving’ talk with her again, and this time insisted we get medical input regarding her safety behind the wheel.  She was not a happy camper and made it known to us that we were interfering inappropriately in her life.  We were definitely interfering, but we did not feel it inappropriate at all.

We consulted with her medical doctor, who threw the ball to a neurologist.  Her doc suspected she had peripheral neuropathy, and wanted it confirmed.  She underwent an extensive testing process, the end result which was hearing the neurologist say she was not safe driving due to progressive peripheral neuropathy.  She wouldn’t be able to tell if her foot was on the brake pedal or accelerator.  He reported two true stories about elders driving when they weren’t safe, resulting in deaths of others.  She heard him and gave up the keys.

Help from the Medical Community and the State DOT

Three years ago, three of four daughters agreed their father was not safe driving.  There were unexplained dents and scratches on the car, and other family members reported rather harrowing experiences riding with him.  They downloaded the form from the Internet, and reported his unsafe driving to the state department of motor vehicles.  He received the letter from the DOT, and went through the roof.  In retrospect, the daughters all agreed they should have told him what they were going to do if he didn’t voluntarily give up driving.  He was 95, had severe dementia but no other health issues whatsoever.

He decided he was going to take the test to prove he could meet minimum requirements to keep his driving license.  And he also decided that, in the event he could not pass the test, he would continue driving anyway without a license.  The daughters agreed they would deal with that issue if and when it reared its ugly head.

A granddaughter jumped into the fray, and decided she would devote two weeks to helping him bone up on his driving skills.  She discovered she had to help him remember where the windshield wipers were each time they went out to practice driving.

The result of this effort was that he passed the driving test, barely passed.  So he had his license for another year.  He was informed by the DOT that he would have to take the test each year thereafter, and his medical doctor would have to confirm in writing that he was capable of driving safely.  The following year, his physician refused to confirm his safe driving skills and his license was revoked.  During that year, the daughters spent a great deal of time chauffeuring him around so his driving time would be limited.  When his license was revoked, he threatened to sue the physician and to continue driving anyway.  All four daughters told him if he continued driving, they would take away his car.

No Clear-Cut Answers

There are no clear-cut answers to the elderly driving issue.  It’s a legitimate concern when cognitive issues begin to appear, and when muscle structure begins to weaken.  There is help available both from the medical community and from state departments of motor vehicles.  One suggestion provided by many articles posted on the Internet about this topic is that a discussion with the elder long before the problem surfaces should occur.  A signed document that gives permission for the family member to insist on giving up the keys when he/she determines public streets are no longer safe with the elder driving can be helpful in managing the problem when it comes up years later.



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