When to take the keys away?

When was the last time you rode with a senior family member?  If it has been awhile, it might be a good idea to plan an outing and ask the older adult if they would mind driving.  This is a perfect way to evaluate how safe your senior driver is to both themselves and other drivers.  Do they follow too closely; not react quickly enough when braking or stopping; or simply are not as aware of their circumstances as they should be?  If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions or you arrived at your destination white-knuckled and stressed out, it’s time to consult with your senior’s primary care physician (PCP) about recommending a driving evaluation.  While this is a rather prickly subject that most family members eventually face, it doesn’t have to be a battle, nor does a family member have to be the “bad guy” in taking away the keys to the car.

As we age, we lose the ability to react quickly in sudden situations and / or to physically be able to respond in emergent situations. This may be caused by a cognitive deficit or a decline in physical acuity.  For example, a senior with a cognitive issue may become directionally confused or may no longer recognize common road signs. A senior may not hear emergency sirens due to impaired hearing, or not recognize that the light has changed from red to green due to visual disturbances. Or because of neuropathy in their lower extremities, the older adult may not be able to effectively brake or accelerate at the appropriate time.

A driving evaluation is an excellent way to determine whether a senior is capable of driving, or if certain restrictions need to be imposed (e.g.  no night driving, no driving on interstates, or with special adaptations for their car).  The one-on-one evaluation is administered by an Occupational Therapist.  In addition, the senior undergoes a behind-the wheel assessment and is monitored in all safety areas.  Then based on the results, recommendations are made to the senior as well as the PCP and designated family members.  There are two sites in theIndianapolis area that help evaluate older adults for driving safety. They are:

Easter Seal Crossroads Rehabilitation
4740 Kingsway Drive
Indianapolis,IN 46205
317-466-2110

Senior Driving and Mobility
4682 Northwest Plaza
West Drive, Suite 12
Zionsville,IN  46077
317-489-0804

As mentioned earlier, the driving evaluation must be initiated by a referral from the senior’s primary care physician (PCP).  This referral, along with medical information such as diagnoses and medications, is submitted to the evaluation site to aid in performing a comprehensive and accurate evaluation. The objectivity of this evaluation may take some seniors off the road, while extending the driving life of others who are safety compliant with new driving restrictions.  In either case, the responsibility of this emotional decision is placed in the hands of a non-family professional.

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