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Posted: June 20, 2005

Practical Caregiving

A Primer on Elderly Driving -- and Alternatives

Here's the story: Our loved one is still driving, but we are not sure he should. He is still able to think well, but because of his medicine, a stroke, or other physical problem, his reflexes are not as good as they used to be. We don't want him to sit at home and do nothing -- that would be a miserable existence for anyone who still has a good mind. How can we tell when it is time to insist that they use other transportation? What transportation is available, and how expensive is it?

 

Let's start at the beginning. Is his driving actually a danger to himself or others, or are you just afraid it is? How can you tell? Here are some guidelines that might help you determine if he needs to stop driving. 

 

  • Check his driving record for accidents and tickets. If you find any, ask him what happened.
  • Evaluate your own attitude toward the elderly and driving. Some elderly people are actually better drivers than younger people. They are more aware of what can happen, they don't want to lose their license, and they understand that their reflexes might be slower.
  • Make sure the vehicle is in good working order.
  • Ride with him.  Don't criticize his driving or yell or scream when something happens that you don't like. That will only make him more nervous, and you won't get a clear picture of his driving ability. Calmly sit in the seat and talk about something else. Watch for some of the following problem areas:

-        Does he fasten his seatbelt?

-        Does he look both ways and yield the right of way before entering traffic?

-        Does he drive much slower or faster than the speed limit (or other cars), causing a hazard?

-        Does he stay in his lane rather than wander from lane to lane?

-        When he turns a corner, does he bump into the curb?

-        Does he have trouble making a left or right turn?

-        Does he signal correctly when turning?

-        Does he respect stop signs and traffic signals, and proceed at the correct time?

-        Does he get lost when he should be familiar with certain streets 

If you think he needs to improve his driving, and has the ability to do so, contact schools, government or other places that have driver education information in your area. The American Occupational Therapy Association has a listing of driver rehabilitation specialists on their website.

 

If you think your loved one should cut down on driving, try these alternatives first rather than insisting he stop driving completely.

  • Suggest he drive a specific route all the time. There may be 3-4 different routes. One for the doctor, one for the grocery store, one for church, etc. Once he drives these routes all the time, he won't have to think about where he is going and he will be better able to concentrate on his driving.
  • Perhaps he should drive only in the daytime and only in good weather. I know many elderly that have voluntarily done this.
  • Suggest that he start using public transportation or other ways to get where he wants to go. This will help him get accustomed to other forms of transportation before it is time for him to stop driving. You may need to help him find the other forms of transportation he can use.
  • Taking a bus or train can be fun; you can read or feel like a tourist in your own city. 

When you decide that driving should be eliminated completely, you need to find alternative modes of transportation. What about city transportation? They usually have small buses for transporting the elderly and handicapped. Call city hall and ask what transportation services are available for the elderly. Don't forget to ask about volunteer programs. Some cities have formed a good volunteer transportation program. Call senior centers, hospitals, churches, taxi services, paratransit services, and any other service you have heard of in your area.  Also ask about any discount or voucher programs that are available.

 

When you know what transportation is available for your loved one, some of the questions you need answered are: 

 

  • What is the cost?
  • Is there a membership fee?
  • What area does that service cover, and is there a limitation on the distance they will travel?
  • Are there requirements or limitations for those they will provide transportation for?
  • When do they provide transportation? Days? Nights? Weekends? Holidays?
  • Are the rides provided for social reasons as well as medical or for shopping?
  • Do they provide rides for people in wheelchairs? How do they handle someone in a wheelchair?
  • Is there an attendant in the vehicle to help your loved one?
  • Will someone go into the home to pick up your loved one?
  • Are they on time or do they occasionally run late?
  • Will other people be riding with your loved one? If so, how long will your loved one have to be in the vehicle while others are being picked-up or dropped off?

You can cut down on transportation costs by having meals delivered, receiving medicine by mail, shopping by catalog, coordinating their rides with other people to share costs and taking shorter trips whenever possible.

 

There is a government program called United We Ride that is working toward coordinating all the government transportation programs, but it is in its early stages of development. Hopefully, it will make this whole process much easier in the future.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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