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Resource Guide For Caregivers

For a copy of this article in PDF format

As we age, we can continue to drive safely longer with the right supports to ensure driving fitness. According to traffic safety experts from across the country, the key is to intervene early before an on-the-road crisis occurs.

The Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety Project administered by the New York State Office for the Aging provides information and education to older drivers so that they may remain safely behind the wheel, when appropriate, or access transportation alternatives when they are not. Information and education is also available for caregivers of older drivers, helping professionals in the community, traffic safety professionals or anyone attempting to help an older driver.

Project Partners and Steering Committee

AARP, Albany County Department for the Aging, Albany County Department of Public Works, Allegany County Older Driver Assistance Network, Alzheimer's Association of Northeastern New York, American Automobile Association – Northway and Hudson Valley, Capital District Transportation Authority, Capital District Transportation Committee, Colonie Senior Service Centers, Inc., Erie County Older Driver Family Assistance Help Network, Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, New York State Department of Health, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, New York State Department of Transportation, New York State Office of the Aging, Mr. Phil Lepore, Consultant on Older Driver Issues, Rensselaer County Department for the Aging, Schenectady County Senior and Long Term Care Services, Senior & Special Needs Driving, LLC, Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital and Westchester County Older Driver Family Assistance Program.

COMMON AREAS OF CONCERN ABOUT OLDER DRIVERS

The most common areas of concern about an older driver's driving behavior are:

Traffic Safety experts agree that older drivers and their caregivers should not wait until a crash occurs before they begin thinking about driving safety.

These are some typical concerns expressed by family members:

Do any of these statements sound familiar to you?

BASIC FACTS AND STATISTICS ABOUT OLDER DRIVERS

These facts and statistics show why it is important to be prepared to talk to older drivers about their continued safety and most importantly plan for a time when they can no longer drive.

The caregiver or anyone attempting to help an older driver needs to begin the conversation early, while the older driver still has full capacity to comprehend and make good choices.

Remember that any decisions made about driving should be based on the driver's capability, not their age.

UNDERSTANDING THE SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPORTANCE OF DRIVING FOR OLDER ADULTS

One needs to look no further than the nearest parking lot to understand the importance of driving in our society. Driving allows us to run errands, shop, go to doctors, visit friends, work, volunteer, and attend religious activities. Driving is part of our self-identity, who we are and what we can do. Driving helps us maintain connections with people, places, communities, and activities. Driving allows us to feel in control. Driving includes the pride of owning a car and the convenience of going where we want to when we want to. In addition, one's sense of self identity and independence are closely tied to the freedom to drive.

It is essential to understand the significance and importance that driving has for an older adult and be sensitive to their personal needs.

THE AGING PROCESS AND HOW IT AFFECTS DRIVING

Driving is something we learned many years ago and for most of us it seems like a simple task. However, driving is actually a complicated task that involves multiple skills. Safe driving requires good vision. Safe driving requires good cognition which includes the ability to recognize, remember, decide, and react. Safe driving requires good physical ability such strength, flexibility, and coordination to control the vehicle. Consider for yourself the complexity of driving and the various physiological conditions that make it more demanding for an older adult. There are natural declines as we age in vision, hearing, strength, flexibility, and reflexes that can affect driving. Sometimes there are cognitive changes, too. Some medications interfere with the ability to drive safely by making the person less alert. Chronic conditions such as arthritis can affect a person's ability to drive.

The majority of older drivers are good drivers but sometimes a driver's health or physical limitations can affect the safe operation of a motor vehicle. The aging process can affect a driver's ability to sense, decide and act which are all critical skills needed for safe driving. Knowing the early signs of driving difficulty, both physical and cognitive, allows older drivers and their loved ones to discuss the situation and take appropriate action to maintain their safety and the safety of others in their community.

WARNING SIGNS AND DANGEROUS COPING MECHANISMS

Judgments about dangerous driving should not be based on a single warning sign.

Anyone observing an older driver's driving habits should consider a "pattern" of warning signs or the "degree" of danger that a particular warning sign poses.

The following are just a few of the warning signs that signal that an older driver may be in trouble:

Out of Car Warning Signs:

In-Car Warning Signs:

In-Car Red Flags Indicating that Driving Should be Addressed Immediately:

A decision about driving involves looking at multiple behaviors and the degree of danger that a particular warning sign poses to the community.

If the older driver demonstrates any warning signs, it is time to think about intervening, not just for the driver's safety, but also for the safety of others.

In speaking with an older driver you can ask if they occasionally:

Often an older driver will demonstrate dangerous coping mechanisms when attempting to compensate for their deficiencies.

Two dangerous coping mechanisms related to unsafe driving are:

Anyone who cannot drive without the assistance of copilot simply should not be driving.

OBSERVING AND ASSESSING DRIVING BEHAVIORS

First-hand knowledge of driving behavior can help caregivers or anyone attempting to help an older driver, know if and when they need to intervene.

Please consider using these suggestions when observing and assessing an older driver's driving behaviors:

To assess whether an older driver needs help, a caregiver will need to:

It is difficult to know how well your loved one is driving when you do not live nearby. One way to keep tabs is by developing your own feedback network.

To establish a feedback network you will need to identify people who can keep an eye out for your driver and who will call you when they see a problem.

If your feedback network has some of the following people helping, it is likely you will be alerted by one of them when your driver is having a problem:

Spouses, companions, friends, neighbors, service providers, and even the mechanic at the local garage have potential feedback roles to play in helping you keep an older driver safe.

Find out who will help. Put them on your contact list for feedback.

PREPARING FOR THE CONVERSATION WITH AN OLDER DRIVER

In preparing for the conversation with an older driver please consider that:

Experts in the field of older driver safety and caregiving frequently remind us that:

The following is a checklist to consider before talking to an older driver about safety concerns:

HAVING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT DRIVING CONCERNS

Your attitude and approach are important to successfully communicate with anyone.

The following are some tips on how to structure your conversation with the older driver:

If the decision is made to retire from driving, problem solve and work together with the older adult to address how they will get where they need to go.

If the older driver is dangerous and refuses to make changes or stop driving, find a doctor, a member of the clergy or a family friend to help you.

Intervention of Last Resort:

To report possible medical or mental conditions, you must complete a DMV DS-7 (Request for Driver Review) form. The DS-7 form may be obtained by calling the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles call Center at (518) 486-9786, or visit Motor Vehicles online.

Please note: The DMV does not accept reports by email or by telephone; and The DMV decides the action to take or can decide to take no action at all.

"WHEN YOU ARE CONCERNED
A guide for families, friends and caregivers concerned
about the safety of an older driver"

Family members are usually the first to be confronted by the problems associated with a potentially unsafe older driver. Families may be able to find resources on aging and driving, but commonly lack the ability to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle. What to do when an older driver is impaired, unsafe or at-risk, can be both perplexing and paralyzing for the older driver themselves as well as for families and others worried for the driver's safety.

The New York State Office for the Aging offers the following publication that can serve as a guide for those concerned about the safety of an older driver.

"When You Are Concerned" is an award winning 56 page publication developed to guide families facing the dilemma of what to do when an aging loved one is at risk driving.

This publication is based on the successful actions and guidance offered by individuals who have assisted an at-risk older driver to drive safely or helped the driver retire from driving.

A printed copy of the Guide is available by contacting the New York State Office for the Aging, 1-800-342-9871 or by Email to the Office for the Aging.

DRIVING SAFELY LONGER

Safety experts agree that with the right supports, an older driver can continue to drive safely longer.

By practicing a few fundamental and common sense safety precautions drivers of all ages can remain safe on the road.

Share the following safe driving tips with your older driver and ask them to follow these simple suggestions:

DRIVER SAFETY RESOURCES

Driving a car is a life-long learning process. Technology changes, environmental changes and societal changes demand that drivers be adaptable. In order to help with those changes defensive driving programs have been designed to offer the older driver an opportunity to refresh their skills and driving abilities. Defensive driving programs refresh knowledge concerning the rules of the road as well as provide safety tips.

The following information describes the most frequently requested programs. There may be others offered in the older driver's community.

AARP Driver Safety Program

The AARP Driver Safety Program is the nation's first and largest refresher course for drivers age 50 and older. The program is designed to help an older driver:

National Safety Council

The National Safety Council offers a six hour defensive driving course which is provided locally with certified instructors. Features of the course include:

American Automobile Association

The American Automobile Association offers:

Approved Driver Safety Course Providers in New York State There is also a current listing of Approved Driver Safety Course Providers in New York State on the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles website(External Link).

Driver Assessment and Rehabilitation Programs

Driver Assessment and Rehabilitation Programs are available in many communities.

PLANNING FOR RETIREMENT FROM DRIVING

The best approach is to plan ahead for retirement from driving before problems begin.

For those older drivers that are considering or have decided to retire from driving the caregiver will need to take several important steps:

We must always consider the emotional and physical needs of an older adult who can no longer drive.

Transitioning from driving is a huge loss to an older adult and they will need time to grieve.

There is danger in the fact that many older adults who stop driving can become isolated, lose reliable access to health care or undergo a decline in their physical and mental status.

Show them caring and love at this time of life change.

TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES FOR OLDER ADULTS

In a society which has largely preferred the individual automobile to most other forms of transport, it should come as no surprise that our transportation system mirrors our very wish. But knowing what we do today, few of us now believe, if we had it to do over again, we should have relied so heavily upon the automobile. Indeed, it is ironic that the rural and suburban locations made possible by the automobile are now destined to strand those who can no longer drive.

When we consider transportation alternatives for older adults, in many areas of the state, there are few available. For example, public transportation may not be available in rural or even outlying suburban areas. Volunteer transportation programs may have waiting lists or be geographically unavailable. To complicate matters even further, family members may not live nearby and may be unable to drive the person when and where they need to go. The good news is that most communities do provide alternative transportation to adequately meet the needs of older adults.

To learn about the transportation alternatives available for an older adult, begin by calling the area agency on aging in the county where the older adult resides.

This is what an area agency on aging can do to help you:

Please be aware that when you contact the area agency on aging to find out about transportation providers in the community, you will need to be prepared to tell them if the older adult is able to use a taxi, public transportation or a senior van independently or if they will require assistance.

These are some questions to ask when you contact a local transportation provider:

Be sure to write all of the important contact information down and keep it near the telephone or somewhere that is handy for the older adult to access.

Be sure to keep the transportation plan current; things change:

CAREGIVING AND COPING

The day an older loved one stops driving often marks the day you begin a transition to caregiver. If you were involved in precipitating your loved one givingup the wheel, you may also be feeling guilt in addition to your new caregiving responsibilities. The combination can be physically and emotionally draining. You will need to take care of yourself.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms that you may be needing help:

These are some of the signs of caregiver burnout:

Here are some of the things you can do to prevent burnout:

Caregiver assistance is no more than a telephone call away.

SOME ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS TO SHARE

No one concerned about the safety of an older driver wants to stand by and just worry, but many do. We all understand how important it is for older adults to remain independent, mobile and socially connected. So, it is critical that all caregivers approach the topic of driving as respectfully as possible. It is important to remember that a driver's chronological age is not a good predictor of driving ability. What counts on the road is the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. The resources and steps outlined in this resource guide can be utilized improve your loved one's fitness to drive.

If the time comes when everyone agrees it is time to hang up the keys, many communities have transportation options to get your loved one to the places that they need to go. Make sure you have done your homework and can introduce your loved one to all of the community transportation resources that are available. The local area agency on aging can help.

Caregiving is all about helping your loved ones lead the best possible life.

Staying safe on the road is just another important part of the picture.

For Additional Information:
New York State Office for the Aging
2 Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-1251
Help Line
1-800-342-9871
Email