Driving is a complex activity requiring high-level cognitive skills, including visual processing, attention, judgment, and memory. Declines in these functions may make older drivers vulnerable to crashes in complex driving situations.
Older drivers are therefore more likely to experience crashes at intersections, particularly when a left-hand turn is involved. Safety for older drivers is a recognized public health issue. As the number of older drivers rises, patients and their families increasingly turn to medical professionals for guidance on safe driving.
Almost everyone wants to keep driving as long as they can. And many older people may make proper adjustments when they suspect that they are not driving as well as they did in the past. They may decide to no longer drive at night, travel only short distances, use only familiar routes, and avoid busy traffic and highway driving. Yet it may not always be clear when visual or hearing problems, general medical issues, cognitive changes, and/or side effects of medications may be affecting a person’s ability to drive safely.
Elderly people who are self aware of such changes and who can accurately assess their abilities can make such changes that will enable them to continue driving safely. Yet for those who cannot accurately access their driving fitness, the observations and concerns of loved ones, caregivers, and the patient’s healthcare providers become particularly crucial.
For those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, determining when and how to limit or stop driving can be confusing and difficult for the patients themselves as well as their loved ones. In some cases, early diagnosis and treatment may enable patients to drive longer. Yet as the disease progresses, the cognitive skills required for driving will continue to diminish, and the patient must stop driving.
Fortunately, there are several resources available for elderly drivers and their loved ones regarding these difficult issues, providing helpful information on:
- The physical and cognitive effects of aging and how they can impact the abilities of elderly drivers
- Signs that suggest decline in an elderly person’s driving abilities
- Medical issues that must be considered
- Programs that may help elderly drivers to make important additional adjustments to their driving to appropriately compensate for physical changes
- Alternative transportation options
- How to take the necessary steps to stop an elderly person from driving due to changes associated with normal aging or with progressive dementia when loved ones strongly feel that he or she can no longer do so safely