In 2009, three quarters of seniors had drivers’ licenses – about 3.5 million people. Of that number, 200,000 drivers were over 85 years of age. In the over 85 group – 67% were men and 26% were women. Of significant concern is that statistics indicate that more than one quarter of seniors with Alzheimer’s, or another form of dementia, had a driver’s license, (about 20,000 people in 2009!). It is really no surprise, therefore, that, combined with physical limitations such as diminished sight and hearing, seniors represent the highest risk insurance category–next to teenagers!
What can a family member or friend do if they are concerned about the driving ability or safety of senior who continues to drive?
Firstly, recognize that driving is very important to your loved one and has, for years, been their primary means of getting around and is a genuine sign of their continuing independence. Also, whilst discussing the subject, keep in mind that the sensitive and emotional prospect of giving up driving is of utmost importance to them.
Secondly, if there are other family members or friends available, communicate with them to see if they have made some of the same observations and discuss how you collectively may be able to help the driver.
What can family members and friends do when a senior driver continues to drive against the advice of their doctor and others?
It is best to maintain a sense of trust in your relationship by being honest and persistent. Encourage your loved one to make the decision on her, or his, own or reduce or stop their driving as appropriate. Be aware that seniors who lose the privilege of driving often feel lonely or anxious because they have fewer opportunities to be with friends or involved in activities. If your loved one will not listen to reason, you may want to discuss the problem with his/her doctor to find out if there are any medical or legal reasons that should be reported.
Try to be sensitive to the older person’s feelings. Again, expect some emotional reaction and do what you can do to help them through this trying time. A suggestion is to encourage the older person to discuss this with you, another family member, friend or doctor. And, you might talk about other ‘better’ means of transport. As a family member or friend, you should try to be sensitive to a real sense of insecurity and a deep feeling of a loss of independence associated with ‘hanging up the keys!’