October 3rd, 2017
Cue music and begin singing: I Can’t Drive Past 55!
Okay, some would say it’s a stretch to morph Sammy Hagar’s 1984 rock anthem into a cautionary song about senior driving. But even Sammy is an “older adult” now (he’ll turn 70 this month), so maybe he wouldn’t be completely opposed to changing the lyrics, especially if it would help keep our elders safer.
Getting older doesn’t automatically mean that you shouldn’t be behind the wheel. After all, plenty of drivers stay on the road way past the age of 55, and even into their 60’s and 70’s (or 80’s!). But with one in six American drivers now 65 or older, it’s become more important than ever to regularly monitor your driving abilities so that you know when it’s time to stop.
Health problems – from hearing or vision loss to arthritis, diabetes and dementia – are certainly factors that can hinder a senior’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. But there are other tell-tale “stop” signs to keep an eye on, including: stopping at green lights or running stop signs or red lights; side-swiping cars when parking; becoming disoriented and needing to call a family member for directions; or reports from friends or acquaintances who have witnessed your loved one’s erratic driving.
Trying to talk someone into surrendering their independence can be super difficult. But being silent about your concerns could risk exposing your loved one to injury or even death. So temper any awkwardness and hesitation with thoughts of safety, and when you introduce the subject try to avoid coming on too strong.
*If you’ve noticed erratic or sloppy driving, chances are he (or she) has, too.
*Start with a thoughtful but unobtrusive question, like “How are you doing with your driving?”
*Encourage them to discuss concerns without automatically jumping in with solutions.
*Use reflective listening to convey understanding and support.
*Last, but not least, set aside enough time for a thorough, unhurried chat.
There are actually more options available for seniors who cannot – or choose not to – drive than ever. In addition to safe and affordable Public Transportation modes like busses and trains, those 65 and older are also eligible for reduced-fare Shared Ride programs, and even free local fixed-route rides courtesy of the Pennsylvania Free Transit Program. And don’t forget popular new ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, both of which are already in the Keystone State; plus one which isn’t here yet but could be eventually: SilverRide, which specifically serves older adults and people with mobility limitations.