If there is a number one question I get asked about aging parents, it's "How do I get them to stop driving?"
When it comes to people with dementia, there definitely is a time when they must stop driving. In our society, where driving equals independence, convincing an elder with dementia to stop driving can be a daunting task. I generally suggest involving a third party in that decision. I've written and spoken much about this issue, and I will again. However, that is for another time.
Here's a surprising little curveball. Understand, we are not talking about someone with stage 4 Alzheimer's who is convinced he or she is 25 and can drive like Mario Andretti. We are talking about normal aging and the ability to drive safely.
The Rand Corporation has released a study that finds that seniors are less likely to cause accidents than the youngest drivers. Try to tell that to someone stuck behind a "Sunday driver," and you'll get a hearty hee haw!
However, "Drivers 65 and older are just one-third as likely as drivers 15 to 24 to cause auto accidents, and not much more likely than drivers 25 to 64 to cause accidents," according to a RAND Corporation study issued yesterday.
The study does mention that seniors, who are usually more frail and less healthy than younger people, are more likely to get hurt or die in a car accident. But the study shows that the elders are not as likely to have an accident in the first place. The study acknowledges that seniors' abilities decline as they age, but shows that seniors are more cautious when they drive, they drive less often, and they avoid driving in more congested areas and bad weather.
The study says, "Seniors who drive pose a much larger risk to themselves than to others... As the U.S. population ages, injury rates will increase - not because seniors cause more accidents, but because seniors are more vulnerable to injury when they get into an accident."
The study goes on to say, "Seniors appear to make fairly sound decisions about when to reduce the amount they drive or stop driving altogether."
I saw this with both of my parents. My dad's eyes were poor and he was beginning to have problems from fluid on his brain, due to an old injury. One early evening, Dad had driven when he and my mom went out for dinner. He didn't see a small cement barrier that showed where to park, and started driving over it. Nothing serious. But Dad said, "I don't think I'm a safe driver, anymore." He gave up the keys.
Mom was a little harder. She scraped her car on a parking post in her garage. It took two times, and the second time was a pretty good dent, but she finally said she'd better quit.
I know the decision to quit driving was hard on my dad. He'd already had to give up many things, due to age and health. It was also hard on my mom. She knew she'd be depending on me to be her transportation. But they both made the decisions themselves, at the right time. I've heard many other stories like this.
Some seniors are very stubborn. Guess what? Some teens are very stubborn. And so are some boomers. So, there will always be people who need to be strong-armed into giving up the keys. And, again, when a senior is coping with dementia, you are likely looking at a battle, because the ability to reason dies as the brain damage increases.
But before you jump to conclusions about "that old guy up ahead," look to your own driving habits. How close a call did you make on that last red light? Seems to me it was yellow turning to pink, at the very least. Be honest now.
Published On: July 19, 2007