Summertime means road trips for many American families. With the Independence Day holiday just passed, the news has been filled with stories about more and more people taking to the highways, thanks in part to gas prices (adjusted for inflation) at near record lows. With that in mind, now that “driving season” is in full swing, we’re bringing you this blog post from earlier in the year about one of the touchiest topics a family can face: when should an aging parent stop driving, especially if he or she is showing alarming early signs of cognitive decline?
As if the discussion about when an aging adult needs to stop driving weren’t difficult enough, along comes a recent Canadian research study showing the added dangers of driving with even mild cognitive impairment. Everyone knows that seniors with signs of significant memory loss should never get behind the wheel. Now it appears even those whose cognitive impairment is in its earliest stages may also pose a risk to themselves and other motorists – a risk they’re probably not even aware of.
We found this current article on a website called The Oldish (www.theoldish.com). It points to a relatively small yet significant study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto which compared the driving skills of 20 healthy seniors against 24 seniors with what researchers called “mild” cognitive impairment – those displaying early signs of memory loss. The results were sobering. According to the web article, “Those with mild impairment made more than twice as many driving errors than the healthy group.” The most common mistakes included “turning left with oncoming traffic and crossing the center line or straying from the legal driving lane,” all potentially dangerous, even disastrous driving blunders.
“Driving requires quick thinking, careful attention, memory and decision making which can be impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” writes the author. However, and surprisingly, “there are (currently) no recognized means of assessing the safety of people driving with mild cognitive impairment.” This seems to put the onus on families to decide when it’s time for Mom or Dad to turn in their keys – a challenging conversation under the best of circumstances.
Based on our years of experience here at AgingOptions, this decision regarding older people continuing to drive seems especially hard here in America, where for a century we have had a prolonged love affair with the automobile. Getting your driver’s license is the ultimate rite of passage for most American teens. Driving is associated with freedom and independence – so being forced to stop driving is seen by most seniors as the ultimate proof of their decline, dependence and approaching end of life. No wonder many hold onto this privilege tenaciously.
In the words of the article on The Oldish website, “When seniors should stop driving or be forced to stop driving is a complex question that often polarizes older adults and their families or caregivers.” This issue is exacerbated in many communities by a shortage of viable alternatives to driving. “Reliable, affordable transportation is one of the most pressing concerns of seniors aging in place who wish to remain active members of their community without becoming socially isolated.” For that reason, if your parent or loved one needs to stop driving themselves around, you may need to help them come up with other options. “Family or friends can assist seniors in developing a list of alternative transportation options to help alleviate some of the fears and frustration surrounding stopping driving.”
Finally, this helpful article includes a link to the Dementia and Driving Resource Center on the website of the Alzheimer’s Association (for your convenience we’re also providing a link here). This site can help you determine how and when to approach a loved one whose cognitive impairment is adding to the danger when they take to the road. There’s a complete list of specific warning signs the Alzheimer’s Association website, but here’s a taste: when driving, does your parent or loved one sometimes forget their destination or how to get there? Do they seem confused, making slow decisions, driving at inappropriate speeds, or using poor lane control? Do they become unusually angry when driving? Do they ever confuse the brake and gas pedal? Do they frequently hit curbs or make errors at intersections? Any of these, singly or in combination, should trigger a warning.
Here at AgingOptions our commitment is to help you with all the decisions you need to make as you plan for a healthy and fruitful retirement. If you need to hold a family discussion about issues such as the ones set forth in this article, we can advise you. Aging, as we always say, is a family affair, and that means part of the planning process entails making certain those closest to you understand and support your wishes in retirement. What’s more, thanks to a strategy we call LifePlanning, we can help you navigate virtually all the challenges of retirement, including your health care planning, your optimum choices for housing, your path to financial security, and your need for legal safeguards to maximize the protection of your estate. LifePlanning is the best way we know to enjoy the kind of retirement you’ve always hoped for.
It’s easy to take the next step and find out more: simply invest a few hours and attend a free, no-obligation LifePlanning Seminar in your area. You’ll come away with a brand new perspective on the power of a solid LifePlan for your future. For dates, times and online registration, click here, or contact us during the week. We’re looking forward to seeing you at a seminar soon.
(originally reported at www.theoldish.com)