Impaired drivers may not realize they’re a problem

When to hang up the car keys: impaired drivers may not realize they’re a problem

Christina Corcoran

SENIORS WHO ARE EXPERIENCING COGNITIVE or physical decline shouldn’t be the ones to judge their own driving abilities. So says Bonnie Dobbs, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta in Canada. Dobbs has found that 98 percent of elderly drivers with impairments severe enough to hinder driving ability think they are average or above-average on the road.

Although older drivers often restrict their driving and have a low crash rate per person, they still have a higher rate of accidents per number of miles driven. In Canada, the accident rate among those over 65 is triple that of adults ages 36 to 65. In the U.S. between 1989 and 1999, the number of fatalities of drivers ages 70 and over increased 39 percent while overall fatalities dropped 9 percent.

Caregivers are likely to meet resistance when confronting a parent or grandparent about the safety of his or her driving. Dobbs suggests asking a third party, such as the family doctor, to intervene.

Driving is often a sign of independence for older adults, and the loss of a license has been associated with depression and decreased self-esteem in studies. If families can help aging drivers meet their social transportation needs, Dobbs says, it “would go a long way in preventing them from feeling like their life has less meaning.”

SIGNS OF AN UNSAFE DRIVER

* Medical conditions that may impair vision or attention, such as dementia, stroke and cardiovascular disease, and drugs that affect the central nervous system.

* Difficulty with cognitively complicated maneuvers such as left-hand turns, merging and judging distances.

* Getting lost in familiar places.

* Coming home with dents in vehicle, or mention of being honked at by other drivers.

* Driving considerably slower than the speed of traffic.

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