Most seniors know what it is like to have a love affair with a vehicle. Growing up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s meant having a passion and even a romance with a car. An automobile was more than transportation. It was a part of the culture that included drive-in restaurants (carhops and roller skates, not a drive-through), drive-in movies (back seat romance), hotrods, muscle cars, convertibles, and unique love songs (“Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Mustang Sally,” and “G.T.O.”). For these now older adults, having a car and driving is still a lifeline, a road to freedom and independence and opportunities.
Studies show that giving up driving increases a person’s mortality risk and makes seniors more prone to suffer from depression and land in nursing homes. According to a February 2016 article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, “there is mounting evidence that driving cessation in older adults may contribute to a variety of health problems.” The unfortunate truth is that most individuals outlive their safe driving life expectancy by seven to ten years.
Driving involves many complex tasks that require quick response time, good central and peripheral vision, flexibility, alertness, and more. Common medical conditions and medicines can impair safe driving for people of all ages. Arthritis and other pain conditions, diabetes, sleep apnea, certain vision problems, and dementia are some of these medical conditions. Medications known to impact driving are sedatives, narcotic pain pills, sleep medicines, some antidepressants, cough remedies, antihistamines, and decongestants.
When considering the advantages and disadvantages of giving up driving, most of the advantages seem to benefit others. I remember the most notable advantage when my mother stopped driving was that her children were more at ease and stopped pressuring her. The disadvantages are many, with loss of autonomy, reduced opportunities to be engaged and access services and events, and health concerns among the greatest.
When is the optimal time to give up driving? Experts say when you recognize you are being honked at a lot, when you miss stop signs and red lights, or when family and friends refuse to get in the car with you. Another consideration is when there are sufficient acceptable alternatives to counteract the problems associated with driving cessation.
In the future, affordable autonomous automobiles might offer the ideal solution to the current predicament. In the meantime, due to the rapid pace at which people are becoming seniors, other innovative solutions are needed.
Resources are available. The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center, a program of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration administered by Easterseals and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, offers grants, funding, resources, and information. The Rural Transportation Assistance program and others offer financial help to fund vehicles, some operating costs, and mobility management.
In many communities, volunteer driving programs provide both transportation (door-to-door) and companion drivers (door-through-door) that accompany the older person to medical appointments, shopping, or other destinations and help them fill out forms, carry groceries, or support them in other ways. The National Volunteer Transportation Center supports existing and emerging volunteer transportation programs and services across our nation.
In Portland, Oregon, Ride Connection, a nonprofit “mobility manager,” has been dedicated to coordinating and providing transportation services to people with limited options for over 25 years. Last year, they provided nearly 500,000 rides. They give rides to people over 60 and people with disabilities within three counties. In rural areas, they provide rides for low-income individuals of all ages and abilities. Their philosophy is:
“We believe transportation is a basic human right. Access to transportation means mobility, and being mobile allows a person to connect with his or her community and other essential life destinations.”
To help seniors stay safe in the driver’s seat, AAA offers many valuable resources. There have online tools to evaluate driving, explain mind and body changes that could affect driving ability, ways to improve driving skills, and recommended safety features when buying a new car. http://seniordriving.aaa.com/
AAA also offers a free online tool where you can enter your prescription and over-the-counter medications and find out how drug side effects and interactions may impact safe driving capacity. If you or anyone you cherish, regardless of age, take medication, check out this link to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s site called Roadwise Rx. http://www.roadwiserx.com/