Seniors and Driving: Knowing When it’s Time to Hang Up Those Keys

Seniors and Driving: Knowing When it’s Time to Hang Up Those Keys

When a teenager obtains his license to drive, it’s one of the first steps to increased freedom and independence that leads to a broader social circle and adult responsibilities. As we navigate adulthood, the ability to drive is an essential skill that we often take for granted. Unfortunately, there will come a time in everyone’s life when decreased motor skills and mental acuity will force us to relinquish those keys and give up a great deal of our mobility.

Happy senior woman out for a drive

Happy senior woman out for a drive

For some of us, there will come a defining moment when the realization sinks in that e have become height=”auto” a threat to our own safety – and other drivers. Unfortunately, isn’t always that obvious for many of us, nor will we immediately make the right decision. There will be a period where we will tenaciously hang onto our driving privileges until we are put in an intervention situation by family and friends. Depending on the stubbornness of the individual in question – and whether or not they are suffering from a loss of cognitive reasoning brought on by dementia – it can be a very stressful scene.

Here’s an extreme case:

David was 80-year-old man dying of prostrate cancer. About six months before he passed away, he was enduring one of his frequent hospitalizations when his doctor was shocked to learn that James was still getting behind the wheel of his car for short trips around town. By this time, he was very weak, moved slowly around his house with the aid of a walker, and was suffering from mild dementia. The fact that his wife Linda had never learned to drive facilitated David’s unwillingness to hang up the keys. It also didn’t help that he was enabled by a son and daughter who did not have the courage to stand up to their father. Luckily, nobody was injured or killed by the family’s negligence.

Much like alcohol-impaired drivers, the elderly can become height=”auto” equally belligerent when confronted with the danger they impose on themselves and those with whom they share the road. Doctors can be the greatest ally for families dealing with a tempestuous elderly driver who will not willingly join the ranks of the non-drivers. Physicians, it can be argued, have a moral and ethical duty to report patients they believe are unfit to drive to the proper authorities. (In some states, it is mandatory for doctors to do so.) The Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers published by the American Medical Association was created to aid physicians in making the right decision.

One of the biggest concerns of losing the mobility granted by driving is isolation. When one is alone – or when both husband and wife have lost the ability to pilot a motor vehicle – it can whittle their social world down dramatically. Friends can be a valuable resource, of course. But as people age, they find the peers they have left in the same boat. Those without offspring will fare the worst. Being socially isolated can take a huge toll on a person’s physical and mental health. This article from WebMD contends that it can even lead to a shortened life span.

As long as an elderly driver is still capable of exercising good judgment, slowing down does not necessarily signal the end of one’s ability to drive. Obviously, if you can no longer drive at the minimum safe speeds on expressways, it would be foolhardy to venture onto the interstate highway system. Slower reaction times require reduced speeds. As long as the mind is still able to employ good judgment, there is no reason an elderly driver can’t continue to drive safely within the city limits (even if it may cause some consternation to younger drivers).

There are many excellent resources available to help seniors and families who are dealing with this difficult life situation. For further information, offers a guide that contains valuable information on the topic.

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