My 85-year-old dad is very independent. While I understand his age shouldn’t be the sole criteria in determining his health and well-being, one area I am concerned about is driving.
How can I tell if my dad is a safe driver? Are there steps I can take to make him less likely to experience an accident? I want to support his desire for independence as long as possible, but I also want to keep him safe.
Do you have any advice?
Thank you in advance,
Tips to Evaluate Older Driver Safety
You are correct in not relying on your father’s age to determine whether or not he is a safe driver. While age can play a role, it’s not the only factor to consider. Other signals can indicate it’s time for your dad to stop driving, and adaptive aids address some common senior issues.
- Be the passenger.
An easy and non-confrontational way to evaluate your father’s driving is to ride along as the passenger. Look for warning signs that can indicate a problem, including:
- Bumping into curbs while parking or turning
- Pausing too long at stop signs and red lights
- Inability to maintain their lane
- Repeated and unnecessary braking
- Tailgating cars in front of them
- Driving too fast or too slowly
- Evaluate the driver’s comfort level.
When an older driver thinks they have no other option than to keep driving, they might become afraid behind the wheel. Skittishness can affect their driving. A few things to look for are:
- Anger: Road rage can happen to older drivers too. It might be their way of coping with their anxiety and stress about driving.
- Anxiety: Does your dad seems nervous when he’s driving? Nerves can impact safety.
- Confusion: Adult children may panic and assume a parent is developing dementia if they seem confused while driving. While it may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, it could also be fear.
If your father exhibits any of these signs, it’s probably time to sit down and talk with him to determine how he feels about driving.
- Consider medical conditions.
Some medical conditions and medications can impact a senior’s ability to drive safely. If your dad takes any prescription or over-the-counter medicine, check the labels to see if there are any cautions about driving. If he takes more than a few types of medicine, call the pharmacist to see if there may be any potential interactions or adverse reactions.
Health issues most closely linked to driving safety among seniors include:
- Alzheimer’s disease: In the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, the senior’s physician might say they are still safe to drive. As the disease advances, however, it’s common for adults with Alzheimer’s to get lost traveling to and from once-familiar places. Judgment may also be impaired, putting good driving decision-making abilities at risk.
- Decreased flexibility: One common age-related change is a loss of flexibility. People with arthritis are at especially high risk. This makes it more difficult to turn your head to look over your shoulder or slide in and out of the car.
- Slower reflexes: This also occurs with aging. For drivers, being slow to react can be especially problematic. It can result in the senior taking too long to respond to road hazards and having an accident.
- Vision loss: While some vision changes can be treated or corrected with glasses, others can’t. Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration make it difficult to spot road signs, traffic signals, and pedestrians.
Fortunately, there are a few tools that can make driving a little easier for seniors. Here are some driving aids you might consider for your father:
- Swivel seat: These devices make it easier to slide behind the wheel of a car. They usually cost less than $30 and can be purchased at auto parts stores and online retailers.
- Seat belt pull: The process of dragging the seat belt across the body and locking it is easier with a seat belt pull. This handle-like device gives an older driver up to 6 more inches of reach.
- Mirror adapters: A mirror adapter allows senior drivers to better view their surroundings. They are available for both the rearview and side mirrors.
- Pedal extender: While it’s an issue seniors joke about, research shows older adults often lose several inches in height as they age. A pedal extender is inexpensive and might help. They allow seniors to reach the car pedals without sitting too close to the steering wheel.
I hope this information is helpful, Vickie! Good luck talking with your father about driving.