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When You Are Concerned - A guide for families, friends and caregivers concerned about the safety of an older driver

(When You Are Concerned is also available as a PDF)

Chapter 1

FAMILIES, FRIENDS AND CAREGIVERS

"He's had two recent crashes and I'm getting very concerned."
"She went to her regular hairdresser and got lost for an hour on the way home."
"I will not let my children ride with him anymore."
(COMMENTS FROM RESPONDENTS - SURVEY OF FAMILIES CONCERNED ABOUT THE SAFETY OF AN OLDER DRIVER)

In 1997, the New York State Office for the Aging conducted a survey to understand the experiences of families and caregivers concerned about the safety of an older driver. The survey was open to families, friends, caregivers and service providers concerned about the safety of an older driver. Participation was voluntary. Some 123 families completed the survey questionnaire. Their responses provided the first comprehensive look in the nation at families and the drivers about whom they were concerned, as well as the services which hold potential to be of help.

Who responded to the survey?

  • Mostly it was a female family member or close female relative of the driver (79%). Often they were living half an hour or less away. Most had jobs and/or other caregiver responsibilities, such as children or another aging family member at home.

How long were they concerned about the driver?

  • Often for a year or more (70%).

How did they know the driver was having a problem?

  • Usually from watching the driver. Other tip-offs were damage to the car, comments from passengers and an accident.

Who were the at-risk drivers?

  • Most were 75 and older (as reported by 85% of respondents). Over 30% were 85 and older. Over 90% lived in their own home and almost 75% lived alone.

What kind of safety concerns were identified?

  • Slow reaction time, slow driving, and inattention to other road users and hazards were the most identified concerns. Almost half reported that the driver's car had at least some minor crash damage.

What other things did they see?

  • Almost 50% indicated the driver was having problems with daily living activities, such as taking care of the household and/or themselves.
  • Over 75% felt that the driver had some kind of physical and/or medical condition which impaired ability to drive safely. Vision, hearing and restricted movement problems were identified by 50% of the respondents.
  • Over 60% felt there was an event in the driver's recent personal history which signaled the decline in driving performance. A recent illness and/or recent hospitalization were most often mentioned. How difficult was it to talk to the driver?
  • Some 60% reported they were unable to even discuss the problem with the driver or intervene in any way to prevent the person from driving despite having serious concerns for the older person's safety.

What concerned them most about taking action now to prevent the person from driving?

  • Taking away the person's independence was a concern of almost 80% of respondents. Some 60% said, "It is a hard thing to do to someone you love and care about." Over 50% were concerned that "the driver will never let me hear the end of it."

What did they see as potentially helpful for their situation?

  • Alternative transportation (79%).
  • Help from a physician, such as a letter telling the person not to drive and/or the physician reporting the person to the department of motor vehicles (DMV) (over 70%).
  • A DMV driving test (76%).
  • A non-DMV driving evaluation, such as that provided by an occupational therapist-driver rehabilitation specialist (69%).

A FAMILIAR RING?

If the survey findings have a familiar ring, it is because your concerns are shared by most faced with an at-risk aging driver. Indeed, what to do about an at-risk or unsafe aging driver has become a growing issue among more and more families and caregivers. And like you, they are troubled by what they see when their aging loved one gets behind the wheel. Most families and friends want to help, but often they are not certain what to say, what to do or even where to find assistance.

You probably know from your own situation that the indicators of a problem with driving are rarely as dramatic as a serious crash. More often, they come from a range of indicators taken from the driver's routine behavior, home environment and, of course, their driving. It is this composite view which serves to crystallize the notion that the driver may now be at-risk or has actually become unsafe.

Surrendering the wheel is a significant event for anyone in an automobile dependent society like ours. If your loved one has to give up driving, everyone involved will be impacted to some degree, especially the driver. He or she will lose freedom and independence. Family members may now have to assist with transportation. And if you had a hand in fostering the decision to cease driving, your relationship with your loved one and other family members not supportive of your actions, may also be unfavorably impacted. This downside, however, must be measured against the very real consequences of letting an at-risk aging driver remain on the road.

"I was at work when I heard the ambulance and fire trucks leaving. I didn't think anything of it. I found out it was my 87 year old Aunt. The police said she left the rest area going the wrong way. She went into a car passing a truck and was killed instantly. The other driver was severely injured. In talking with my cousins, they said they were getting concerned about their mother's driving and were going to talk to her. Now it's too late."

Chapter 2



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