How do you know when it's time for your loved one to stop driving?
It can be hard to know whether a loved one is still safe to drive on the roads but being aware of when they should stop is an important part of caring for elderly parents.
Family and friends are often the first to notice changes in a loved one that might impact on their driving ability. Working out what to do next can be hard. If you’re caring for elderly parents or friends and you’re worried about whether they should still be driving, there are steps you can take to assess whether they’re fit to continue driving.
The question of when a person should stop driving is truly case by case: there’s no magic age when people cease to be good drivers. Some seniors are safe drivers into their eighties and beyond. Others may need to stop driving at 70. The ability to maintain safe driving skills varies with each individual and their personal circumstances.
What are some of the signs to look out for?
Dr Tim Ross, Director of Aged Care Medical Services at Bupa, says one of the easiest way to know whether an older person’s driving has changed is to go for a drive with them. If you’re actually in the car, you’ll notice if they miss road rules or simple signals. “They might start having little accidents. They might get lost when they’re out and about and take longer to get home. There are lots of little signs that come along.”
Dr Ross says even if you don’t get an opportunity to observe your parents driving, there may be other signs to pick up on. If things are starting to slip at home, it can be a sign there may be an issue with their driving, too.
Which health issues can impair driving?
There are many different health conditions that can impair driving and reduce road safety. Dr Ross says, “GPs have to do yearly driving reports for people with diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and neurological conditions like epilepsy, and for people with cognitive decline whether they’ve got early dementia or signs it could be occurring.” Certain medications and other factors such as impaired vision, hearing and muscle tone can also affect a person’s driving abilities.
So it can be helpful if an elderly driver regularly visits a switched-on GP who is very thorough in their assessments.
The loss of independence
While some older people may recognise the risks and voluntarily stop driving, others may be very reluctant to hand in their licence. Dr Ross explains, “The loss of the ability to drive can be the loss of someone’s independence, so it [can be] fraught with emotion and distress.” Discussing alternative options such car pooling, tours with clubs, taxis, public transport and online shopping may help older people to feel like their life doesn't have to change completely when they stop driving.
Enlisting professional help
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If you’re unsure whether your loved one is still fit to be driving on the road, why not speak to their GP about your concerns. Getting a neutral, impartial decision can help address the problem without having to put you in a difficult position.
If your GP thinks there may be an issues your loved one continuing to drive they might send them a letter requesting them to have a formal assessment with an occupational therapist or a professional driving instructor who is trained in assessing older drivers.
Sometimes the outcome of an assessment is that restrictions are imposed on their licence. It could be that they are only allowed to drive during the day or within a 5-10 km radius of their home.
Dr Ross stresses that avoiding action to spare your loved one’s feelings is a big risk. “If you’re on the fence, do something – the risk here is that someone could die. If your loved one does something wrong on the road due to medical infirmity, the result is someone else could be killed.”
Determining the right time for someone to stop driving can be a challenging part of caring for elderly parents but it’s an issue you should tackle as soon as you start to have concerns.