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Keven Moore: Older drivers — while we are healthier, more active, time may come for difficult conversation

Older Americans today are healthier and more active than ever before. The aging baby-boomer generation is the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2018, there were more than 45 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the United States. This is a 60% increase since 2000. By 2030, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 85-90 percent of them will be licensed to drive.

Senior drivers can be among the safest drivers on the road and often reduce their risk of injury by wearing safety belts, not drinking and driving, and by observing speed limits; however, seniors are more likely to be injured or killed in a crash due to age-related fragility. Except for teenagers, seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile driven.

The ability to drive helps older adults to stay mobile and independent, but the fact is the risk of being injured or killed in a traffic crash increases as people age. As we age, declines in vision and cognition (ability to reason and remember), and physical changes might affect driving. Certain medical problems such as heart disease, dementia, sleep disorders, and limited hearing and vision place older adults at an increased risk of car crashes. Additionally, medicines, both prescription and over the counter, such as those used for sleep, mood, pain, and/or allergies among others might affect driving safety.

Mulitiple accidents can be a sign . . .

In 2019, about 8,000 older adults (aged 65+) were killed in traffic crashes, and more than 250,000 were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries. This means that each day, more than 20 older adults are killed and almost 700 are injured in crashes.

The fact is that seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7-10 years and for the first time in history, we must plan for our “driving retirement” just as we plan for our financial retirement.

This was more than evident to me just the other day when I was dropping my daughter off at her apartment complex, as we both witnessed an elderly woman, attempt to turn around and back up in a very crowded parking lot, striking a vehicle three times in the driver side door, and she never even knew it occurred.

As a concerned family member of an aging parent or loved one, this can be a very difficult conversation to have. Most families dread the conversation, and many will avoid talking about it until a crisis emerges.

I can remember back when my mother-in-law’s driving ability started to decline, as she received a couple of speeding tickets and started to have multiple minor accidents over a very short period of time. This eventually lead up to the incident where she pulled out into an intersection in front of an approaching vehicle that was traveling 50mph. Luckily for her and the other drivers, she didn’t get T-Boned, as the other driver narrowly avoided her, by just clipping her back fender.

When it happened, I got the call and went to her aid, and she told me that she had never seen the other vehicle. This was an eye-opening event that lead my wife and me to decide to not allow her to come to pick up the kids.

We made excuses when we could and avoided the situation because we didn’t want to have that conversation with her. She was very proud of her independence. She finally caught on and she challenged us, and it lead to a very tough conversation where her feelings were hurt despite how delicately we tried to address it.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@higusa.com

In hindsight, we should have taken a more proactive stance, and discussed with her before something happened, because that would have been the safest and most ethical thing to do. But it snuck up on us before we knew it, and by the time it did, it was too late for the proactive conversation.

For a parent who has dementia, the process is much more complicated by the fact that they don’t believe there is a problem. If the dementia is progressing and there are other safety concerns, many have to take the steps to obtain guardianship.

There are several signs that you can look for that indicate that your senior loved one should stop driving:

Frequent Accidents – Usually there are a series of small incidents such as small dents and digs, that go unexplained. Often they will strike stationary objects and will not know it, or they have might deflect by saying that someone hit the car when they weren’t in it.

Hitting Curbs – Often times they strike curbs when turning which indicates a vision problem due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, or the need for a new prescription.
Driving Too Fast or Too Slow –  This is often a sign that starts to happen because their judgment has declined.
Distracted Driving – Distraction is a sign of poor concentration. Distracted driving can lead to accidents and getting lost. The best way to evaluate your parents’ attention is to drive with them.
Cognitive Impairment – If your parents are diagnosed with dementia or a neurological disorder, it’s important for you to ride with them often and to pay close attention to driving skills. The loss of cognitive ability will start to erode judgment and orientation over time. Because of the slow progression of the disease, it can be a challenge to pick up on deficits until they result in a serious accident.

Elderly drivers may know that their ability to drive has declined but are afraid to admit it because of the loss of independence, embarrassment, and the cost and challenge to replace transportation.

AAA recognizes this problem, and they are dedicated to keeping seniors driving for as long as safely possible. They are also committed to promoting viable transportation options for seniors who can no longer drive independently.

Here are some helpful tips to increase the safety of senior drivers:

• Always wear a seatbelt
• Drive during the day, and when conditions are the safest in good weather
• Discuss any medical issues with your doctor to determine if they might affect your driving.
• Discuss stopping or changing your medications with your pharmacist or doctor if you experience any side effects that could interfere with safe driving such as blurry vision, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, fatigue, and/or loss of consciousness.
• Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as directed.
• Plan your route before you drive.
• Leave a large following distance between your car and the car in front of you.
• Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking or texting on your phone, and eating.
• Consider potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend, using public transit, or car ride services.
• Download and use CDC’s  MyMobility Plan to make a plan to stay mobile and independent as you age.

If you just can’t bring yourself to take your parent’s keys away from them, you have three options. You have them complete a self-assessment test by going to AAA’s Driver-65-Plus.

The second option is to ask them to have an in-car driving skills evaluation of their driving ability, conducted by state-licensed and trained driving instructors that can provide a relatively quick and inexpensive answer if they still possess the ability to drive safely.

The third option is to have a clinical driving assessment conducted by an Occupational Therapist Driving Rehabilitation Specialists (OT-DRSs. It’s objective, professional, and is performed by a medically trained in the science of occupational therapy, which permits them to better understand progressive medical conditions and life changes that can affect driving. They also may have backgrounds in driver education, physical therapy, kinesiotherapy, or psychology.

Be Safe My Friends!

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