Balancing independence and safety for older drivers

The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® and the MIT AgeLab have collaborated to help people with dementia and their families prolong independence while encouraging safe driving. We have excerpted parts of the full guide to help provide suggestions for monitoring, limiting and stopping driving. Summarized are the experiences of family caregivers and people with dementia, as well as suggestions from experts in medicine, gerontology and transportation.

Not just getting older

Dementia symptoms, unlike changes in eye sight or slower reactions, can be unpredictable and tough for the individual experiencing them to recognize.

With physical limits, most people will modify the way they drive by avoiding driving on certain roads or at night. They usually can assess and regulate their driving without family intervention and can continue to drive safely throughout their lives.

Drivers with dementia often modify their driving by driving less at night or in unfamiliar areas, but as their abilities diminish, they lose the capacity to determine when they should stop driving. They’re likely to minimize the complexity of driving and overestimate their abilities. They may lose the ability to be aware of their own neurological and thinking problems.

Warning Signs of Degraded Driving Skills

Take a look at the Warning Signs for Drivers with Dementia on page 11 of the “SAFE DRIVING FOR A LIFETIME: at the Crossroads guide”. Keeping a log and good communication between caregivers and family members can provide a more complete picture of a driver’s ability to safely drive.

Discussing Driving

The challenge with driving and dementia is to preserve a person’s sense of independence for as long as possible, while simultaneously protecting the safety of that person and others. Many times, caregivers will allow a person with dementia to continue driving even though they believe it’s unsafe. They might not want to hurt that person’s feelings, or they may worry about what others might think. Some want more support from family, friends or professionals before intervening, and others want to delay taking on the responsibility of providing transportation

Strategies to Ease the Transition

A gradual shift in who drives can ease the transition for both family members and people with dementia. Although you may want the person with dementia to maintain control for as long as possible, it’s often easier to stop driving if driving has been reduced gradually over time. Driving even short distances in good weather can pose a risk if driving skills are impaired. Most accidents happen close to home.

When possible, include the person with dementia in the planning process. People are better able to respond to appeals to safety during the early stages of the disease. This is a good time to discuss options for when the person must limit and eventually stop driving. Taking away the car keys or a driver’s license – or selling or disabling the car – should be a last resort. To someone in the early stages of the dementia, such actions seem abrupt, extreme, disrespectful and punitive.

The Milburn Agency it committed to safe driving at any age, if you need help with auto insurance in the St. Louis or St. Charles MO area we would be pleased to serve you.