I am worried about my mother’s driving abilities. She seems to be forgetful and I am worried she is no longer safe to drive. What can I do?

by Audrey Miller on June 8, 2009

in Baby Boomers, Caregiving, Dementia, Elder Care, Family Conflict, FAQ, Power of Attorney

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When we were teenagers and our parents allowed us to take the car, they worried about us and didn’t go to sleep until they heard the garage door open and the front door close. Now, some 30, 40 or 50 years later, the tables have turned and we the children are concerned about our parents’ safety when they are driving.

How do you know if your parent is still able to drive safely? Should they be driving? What should you look for? Who do you contact?

Inherent in the aging process is changes to one’s physical functioning, vision, perception and processing abilities. It is the degree or severity of these changes that could make driving unsafe. Though these changes are inevitable, the rate at which these changes occur will vary between individuals. Age alone is neither a good indicator of driving skills nor a determinate of when someone should stop driving.

When the changes occur slowly over time, the older person can compensate for minor deficits. However, if several skills are affected or there is a sudden change in abilities due to illness, driving may become impaired.

Warning signs to look for include: doesn’t observe signs, signals or other traffic, needs help or instruction from passengers, slow or poor decisions, easily frustrated or confused, frequently gets lost, driving too fast or too slow, poor road position or wide turns, accidents or near misses.

What do you do with this knowledge? If your parent presents any of the above warning signs, it is recommended that you discuss your concerns with them, and with their doctor. They could also consider having a driving evaluation by a certified driving rehabilitation specialist. The evaluation should include a review of the driver’s medical history, medication, functional ability, processing speed, perception, reaction time, attention and decision making abilities, as well as a behind the wheel evaluation.
The driving rehabilitation specialist will recommend any compensatory strategies to help. Your Care Manager can make suggestions of local driving programs in your community.

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