Keeping Older Drivers Safe
For most people over the age of 16, driving is an important daily activity that facilitates independence and provides a sense of self-confidence. Yet, as people age, their vision, memory, and other physical and cognitive characteristics may decrease and challenge their ability to drive safely, but not challenge their self-confidence.
Occupational Therapists trained in driver evaluation and rehabilitation can evaluate a person’s ability to drive by testing his or her vision, reaction time, strength, judgment, and endurance. Although many people adjust their driving habits as they age by driving less often or only in residential areas during daylight hours, experts are unsure whether older adults make this change at an appropriate age or in appropriate ways. In most situations, Occupational Therapy practitioners can help older adults modify their driving habits to allow them to get from A to B safe and sound. The practitioner may suggest special equipment or driving strategies that improve driving abilities. They also discuss other ways to get around safely and independently while maintaining quality of life.
What can an Occupational Therapist do?
- Evaluate older adults to determine any physical, visual, or cognitive limitations that could affect how he or she is able to drive a car.
- Conduct an on-the-road test to see how the problems identified in the evaluation affect the ability to drive safe.
- Provide training to improve their ability to drive safely.
- Recommend adaptive equipment and train older drivers how to use the equipment to help them continue to drive and get around.
- Help the older adult identify alternate forms of transportation, such as public transportation, if it becomes clear that the client should no longer drive.
- Consult with friends and family of an older driver about his or her abilities and how they can ensure that the older adult is able to continue participating in fulfilling activities.
- Assist the older adult who is no longer able to drive to identify meaningful activities that do not involve driving.
What should families and friends do for an older driver?
- Sincerely Share your concerns with the older adult and then family or friends if you feel an older adult is not safe to drive.
- Insist on driving if you are in the car with someone who is driving in a manner that makes you uncomfortable.
- Consult with an Occupational Therapist or family physician if you are unsure about an older adult’s ability to drive.
- Delicately Ask the older adult, who is having trouble with driving, to make an appointment for a full evaluation of his or her skills.
- Help an older adult who is no longer safe to drive to find alternate means of transportation, such as buses, subways, taxicabs, community vans, and through family and friends.
Need more information?
It is important that older adults who are experiencing changes in their driving abilities be evaluated. If you would like to consult an occupational therapist or driving rehabilitation specialist, practitioners are available through many hospitals, medical centers, and clinics.
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are trained in helping both adults and children with a broad range of physical, developmental, and behavioral issues in addition to driver wellness.