Thursday, July 07, 2016

Half the drivers over 65--should we worry?

Driving takes a wide range of brainpower--judging distances, managing multiple inputs, reacting quickly, staying focused for long periods, and correctly interpreting signs and signals.

Once, when my daughter was in the stroller, we got a green light, a car was stopped at the crosswalk, I pushed the stroller out and the car that was stopped started forward...I pulled the stroller back onto the curb before it even consciously registered (some Mom reflex). The car went across the intersection, stopped, then the driver--an older woman--came back crying. She had looked at the light on the cross street and interpreted it as a "green" for her and had come off a standing stop.

My whole life, not to mention my child's, could have ended there.

In the next 30 years, up to 77% of drivers will be over 65. These adults have the highest crash rate per mile of any group.

A researcher at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at  Florida Atlantic University published a study in the J of Public Health Nursing. One conclusion is that it's not the person's age, but functionality that counts.

Memory is at the core. Memory provides the basic knowledge to operate the car, to remember the destination, the skills to turn left safely. Also--brain changes can affect visual processing itself.

And as a Catch 22--drivers with dementia and even their caregivers may not recognize the need to limit or stop driving.

The researchers suggest a three part process. (1) patient assessment and medication review, (2) a computerized simulation, and (3) a road test with a certified examiner.

Adult children need to step up and step in if need be.

My mother never drove. I never drove. But my father had a hard time handing over the keys--and even drove himself home from his first stroke.

I have a friend whose mother sideswiped a car and then ran in a store and hid.

These can be difficult times for families.

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