When is it time to give up the car keys?


When is it time to give up the car keys?

Learning we can no longer drive for safety reasons can be extremely difficult.
As we get older, we are at increased risk for cognitive decline, visual and physical impairments that can affect our ability to safely drive. Driving may no longer be possible, or drivers may need specialized driver rehabilitation to safely stay on the road.
“The biggest issue I encounter, especially with older adults, is cognitive impairment,” says Ian McClure, a certified driver rehabilitation specialist at Tidelands Health. “The other is decreased reaction time, which can slow to a point that it’s just not safe for people to drive any longer.”

A difficult transition

For many people, driving is synonymous with freedom and independence, so losing the ability to drive can be quite challenging, McClure says.
“It’s easier if people recognize it’s coming and can psychologically prepare themselves,” he adds. “But for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive decline, they may not be able to remember why they can’t drive, which can make the process more difficult.”

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Outside of cognitive impairment, some physical conditions may also make driving difficult. The good news, McClure says, is that those types of challenges can often be overcome.

How driver rehab can help

Through the Tidelands Health driver rehabilitation program, McClure — one of only a few certified driver rehabilitation specialists in South Carolina — routinely helps drivers adapt so they can safely drive. For example, someone with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy or an amputation can undergo training using adaptive equipment such as hand controls, alternative steering devices and modified dash instruments.

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Patients in the program are trained using one of two vehicles equipped with adaptive features. Once a driver has completed the training and passed the state’s road test, adaptive equipment can be installed and integrated on the individual’s personal vehicle.
“What’s changing is how they interface with their vehicle,” McClure says.
Vehicles that feature backup cameras, night-vision systems, alert systems and automatic braking have made driving safer, but some older drivers are intimidated or reject the newer technology because they don’t know how to use it properly, McClure says.
“I’ve found that once we teach them how to use these features, they often love it and ask how to turn it back on,” he says.

Signs it's time

Knowing when to relinquish the car keys isn’t necessarily an age-related question, McClure says. It has more to do with a driver’s ability based on capability and impairments.
“There’s really not an age you can put on when we’re too old to drive,” McClure says. “I’ve had to tell someone in their 20s or 30s you can’t drive. And I’ve had 90-year-olds still driving. Age itself is not the issue. It’s the physical, visual and cognitive condition you’re in that play a part in that decision, regardless of age.”
So what are some of the signs that you or a loved one may need to put down the keys or seek a driving assessment through a specialist such as McClure? Here are some things to watch out for, according to AARP:

  • Delayed response to unexpected situations
  • Becoming easily distracted while driving
  • Decrease in confidence while driving
  • Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic
  • Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
  • Getting scrapes or dents on the car, garage or mailbox
  • Having frequent close calls
  • Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
  • Getting lost or needing assistance to return home
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