It is a fact of life that people grow older everyday. With increasing age come changes in physical, mental and sensory abilities that can challenge a person's continued ability to drive safely. But there are a variety of safe travel options for people of all ages. The real need is a broader awareness of the solutions, rather than a narrow focus on the problem.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) believes that occupational therapy practitioners have the skills to evaluate a person's overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and provide rehabilitation, if necessary. Many are specially trained in the full scope of driving rehabilitation. Occupational therapy practitioners work with older adults as well as their families and caregivers, offering individualized assessment. They can identify individuals' unique challenges and find strategies that will help them live life to its fullest by keeping them active, healthy, and safe in their communities.
AOTA's Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (December 2–6, 2013) aims to promote understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensuring older adults remain active in the community—shopping, working or volunteering—with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.
Throughout the week, AOTA will bring attention to a different aspect of older driver safety. Occupational therapy practitioners are encouraged to share their experiences during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week on the Driving/Driver Rehabilitation forum in OT Connections.
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. Just as one plans for retirement, it's important to plan for transportation needs. Proactive, early planning is paramount to continued independence and safety. 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. Read more.
Tuesday: Family Conversations
AOTA's Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is intentionally held each year in December because this is the time of year when families often come together for the holidays. One of the first steps in addressing older driver safety is having a nonthreatening conversation with our loved ones. Family and friends play a major role in discussions about older driver safety, and it is better to start the conversation early, allowing time for planning and the exploration of options long before the crisis or accident. Read more.
Wednesday: Screening and Evaluations With an Occupational Therapist
An older driver may decide that it is time to get a check-up on his or her driving fitness. The services described as "Driving fitness evaluations" may seem confusing, as they range from self-assessments (useful education tools to help identify potential challenges) to a professional comprehensive driving evaluation from an occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist. It is important for older drivers and their family members to understand the driving service they are getting, so they can act on the results in a meaningful way. Read more.
Thursday: Equipment That Can Empower Drivers
Driving intervention is based on a plan that is drawn up between the client and therapist. The goal of intervention is to explore ways for individuals to drive safely for as long as possible. Occupational therapy practitioners trained in driving rehabilitation can suggest a broad range of solutions, tailored to the individual driver. These suggestions sometimes include adaptive equipment. Occupational therapy practitioners can work with older drivers in their vehicles to see which types of equipment, if any, are necessary to help them remain comfortable and safe on the road. Read more.
Friday: Taking Changes in Stride
When an older driver discovers the need to make adjustments to drive safely or can no longer do so, families and friends can help him or her take these changes in stride. But to do so, the older driver and the family need to know about resources for independent community mobility before driving cessation occurs. Losing one's ability to drive, limiting the amount of driving, or changing the way one drives does not have to mean losing independence, and older adults have options to continue to stay involved in their communities. Read more.
Special Video Presentation
"Envisioning the Next Generation of OT Professionals for a New Generation of Older Americans" by Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD, director of the MIT AgeLab.