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Trading the Car Keys for a Bus Pass

Older Drivers

Role of the Family Physician continued...

Some physicians, warns Carr, do not want to get this involved. They may just refer the driver to a physical therapist specializing in retraining drivers. In other cases, courses and tips are available from both AARP (http://www.aarp.org/55alive/home.html) and the American Association of Automobiles (www.seniordrivers.org) . The 55Alive program from AARP has been taken by 6 million people thus far, but Carr says this is mostly for the self-aware driver who wants a refresher course, rather than the true road menace.

In the latter case, Carr clearly communicates his doubts about the patient's physical fitness to drive. "I say, 'You need to stop driving.' I also put it in writing (for a contract you can have the person sign to that effect, go to www.thehartford.com/alzheimers/agreement.html)." It'simportant, too, he says, that a family member be present for this discussion.

If the individual does not quit driving, Carr writes to the authorities and asks that the person's license be revoked. Even this can become a problem, however, in that sometimes people whose judgment is impaired will drive without a license or even buy another car if theirs is confiscated. In some cases, a family member may even need to file down the ignition key or remove the battery.

On a More Positive Note

Marottoli says family intervention works better if the individual is involved from the start and has some control in the matter. Otherwise, anger and depression can be the result.

Marottoli urges that family members and friends come up with some plan for alternative transportation that includes not just the necessities, such as medical visits, but the stops that make the person's life rich and full, such as plays or museums. Some suggestions:

  • Taxis, even on a daily basis, can cost less than a car payment, insurance, taxes, and gas
  • Many cities have public buses, subways, or ride-on buses for the elderly
  • Friends, relatives, and teens needing money can drive the person to appointments or the mall
  • Many places deliver -- grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like
  • Some hairdressers make home visits
  • Some senior centers provide transportation to local malls
  • Place an ad in the paper for someone to drive the person as needed

"Once people quit," Marottoli comments, "they often say they appreciate how much more relaxed they feel. It dawns on them that driving has been contributing to a lot of anxiety."

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