Driving is a significant factor for quality of life and independence for the older adult. On the other hand, driving is a complex task involving visual, motor, and cognitive skills that experience age-related changes even in healthy aging. As we age, there can be different age-related functional changes with relevance for driving concerning sensory, motor, and cognitive functions. Since these functions have great interindividual variability, it is necessary to apply methods that help to identify older drivers with impaired driving abilities in order to take appropriate measures. 

Complex tasks like driving require different sensory, motor, and cognitive functions and their interaction.

  1. Sensory: Normal aging is associated with structural changes of the eye that lead to reductions in visual acuity and contrast sensitivity and increased glare sensitivity. Peripheral vision is reduced, leading to difficulty with making turns safely. Hearing can also be diminished in the older adult.
  2. Motor Function: With increasing age, muscle strength strongly diminishes, and speed of movement is reduced. This can lead to a slowing of emergency maneuvers with the steering wheel or a prolongation of braking time. Further, trunk and neck flexibility, which is essential for looking back during driving, is massively reduced with age, leading to insufficient detection of targets in the back view.
  3. Cognitive function: Executive functions which takes place in the frontal section part of one’s brain can change with a decline in cognitive function. This is the area where solution of problems, multitasking  and coping with unexpected situations is controlled. Driving a car is a typical example of such multitasking since it requires steering and operating the car, observing the traffic, being aware or predicting critical situations, as well as planning, executing, and adapting one’s own behavior

The December holiday season is a perfect time to take note of our seniors’ driving abilities and habits.  This time of year is when many families visit elderly parents, grandparents and other loved ones, so you can often get a first-hand look at any problems your elderly loved ones may have while driving.

Consider the below:

  • Inspect your parent’s car for dings along with the garage.
  • Ask your parent to drive you somewhere and notice any areas lacking in sensory, motor or cognitive function that may be concerning.
  • Have a honest conversation with your loved one discussing these concerns.
  • Suggest getting an independent driving test:
    • Occupational therapists, as well as certified driver rehabilitation specialists (CDRSs) can make important recommendations concerning the fitness-to-drive. To assist in formulating these recommendations, occupational therapists usually undertake both off-road (clinic-based) and on-road (in-vehicle) assessments. When conducted together these are referred to as a comprehensive driver evaluation (CDE). They use criteria that are quick and easy to use and provide clinically useful information about a client’s sensory, physical, cognitive–perceptual, and behavioral skills, and have a predictive relationship with the driver’s performance in a car.

The Life Care Managers of Holistic Aging can conduct initial testing to determine if a referral to an OT is needed. They can also offer recommendations on how to approach your elderly loved one regarding this discussion. Families frequently use us as “the bad guy” professional suggesting they get an evaluation so that the adult child can remain supportive and will not be seen for life as the person who took away their license.

Contact us today at https://holisticaging.com/contact/ to get in touch with our occupational therapists today!

How We Can Care for Our Loved Ones