Monday: Identifying Changes That Can Affect Driving
Whether we want to admit it or not, aging is inevitable. The ability to drive safely can be affected by changes in our physical, emotional, and cognitive health. Although changes are a part of normal aging, they occur individually and at different rates and times.
Driving is a complex skill, and age alone is not equated to driving risk. Changes in medications, pain and stiffness, side effects of arthritis and other health conditions, recovering from surgery, and even changes in sleep patterns can have an impact on safety and confidence behind the wheel.
Just as one plans for retirement, it’s important to plan for transportation needs. Proactive, early planning is paramount to continued independence and safety.
An easy first step is to make changes on one’s own. Simple changes such as limiting driving at night, avoiding freeways and rush hour, driving in familiar areas, and not driving long distances reduces many key risk factors and helps improve safety.
Another easy way to be proactive is to participate in a car “check-up,” through a CarFit event.
CarFit is a uniform educational program developed by the American Society on Aging in collaboration with AAA, AARP, and AOTA that is offered free of charge in communities across the country. Occupational therapy practitioners and other professionals offer education following a brief, 12-point checklist that reviews the safety features of the older adult’s vehicle, how to correctly use those features, and the driver’s “fit” in the vehicle. Key safety points include seatbelt adjustment and use, determining a safe distance between the driver and the airbag, and seat and mirror adjustment for optimal visibility. The focus is on ensuring that the car’s features are optimally adjusted for the driver—it does not address the driver’s skills. Participants are not deemed “safe or unsafe” during a CarFit event and do not need to fear having their license taken away.
Occupational therapy practitioners address driving as an essential activity of daily living, and they can help older adults maintain their driving safety and community mobility despite age-related changes.