How Caregivers Can Keep Elderly Drivers Safe

Lots of people can keep driving as they get older, but it's important to keep tabs on your loved one's skills to make sure she stays safe. Keep in mind, there are lots of ways to get around that don't involve her getting behind the wheel. Here's what you can do to let her stay mobile without becoming a danger to herself or others.

Keep the car in good shape. You can head off problems by making sure the car is well-maintained. Get it serviced regularly and check the gas, oil, and tire pressure.

Watch for signs of driving problems. Your loved one may be a perfectly safe driver right now. But her driving skills can get worse suddenly, so keep an eye on the situation. Watch for signs of trouble -- getting lost, driving too slowly or too quickly, getting anxious or frustrated, and having close calls or accidents.

Get an independent evaluation. Contact a driver rehabilitation specialist (DRS) or call the department of motor vehicles to see if the state offers driving evaluations for elderly drivers. Some states require driver tests for people who get diagnosed with certain conditions, like dementia. If your loved one passes the test, she should probably take it again in 6 months.

Set consistent limits on driving. For your loved one's safety, you may need to restrict when and where she can drive. For instance, you might ask her not drive after dark or in bad weather. Or you might want her to drive only within town.

Carpool. If you're giving a lot of lifts to your loved one, get in touch with other caregivers. You might find a way to share some of the driving.

Look into free transportation. Hospitals, senior centers, and adult day cares often have services to take elderly people to doctors' appointments, shopping, and other errands.

Evaluate public transportation. Many regions have buses with hydraulic lifts that help people with walkers or wheelchairs. But if a loved one isn't used to taking the bus, you might want to take the trip with him a few times so he gets the hang of it.

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Make a list of transportation options and keep it by the phone. Include the names and numbers of any friends, neighbors, other caregivers, shuttle services, and cab companies.

Consider hiring a car service. It might seem extravagant. But when you consider the costs of keeping your loved one's car -- the insurance, gas, and maintenance -- you may find that hiring a car as needed makes financial sense.

Have an open dialogue. Talk to your loved one about driving. Does she want to stay on the road? Where does she want to be able to go each week? Things will go more smoothly if you're having a conversation rather than laying down rules.

If it's dangerous, take away the keys. It's not easy. But if your loved one has become a risk to herself or others while driving, you have to prevent her from getting access to a car. You have no choice. Be compassionate. You may want to get a doctor involved in the discussion, since a medical authority may make it easier for your loved one to accept the situation.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 15, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Administration on Aging: "Because We Care: A Guide for People Who Care."

American Medical Association: "Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers."

Family Caregiver Alliance: "Fact Sheet: Dementia & Driving."

National Alliance for Caregiving and MetLife: "Since You Care: Alzheimer's Disease -- Caregiving Challenges."

National Institute on Aging: "Caregiver Guide: Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer's Disease."

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