Professional caregivers and family members can help ensure that the roads are safe for seniors and others by encouraging senior living community residents with medical conditions that may affect their driving skills to consider undergoing a driving evaluation. And occupational therapists who are trained or certified as driving rehabilitation specialists (they have the initials CRDS or SCDCM after their names) have specific knowledge about how medical conditions affect senior driving, says Anne Dickerson, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA.
During Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) shares the following tips for those helping older people prepare for comprehensive driving evaluations, noting that occupational therapists can aid in the process:
- Involve the older driver in the scheduling process to decrease his or her anxiety.
- Encourage the senior to think about his or her limitations and goals related to driving. If changes to vision, physical ability or cognition present safety concerns, the senior will need to determine whether and how those concerns can be addressed.
- Encourage the senior to present the truest picture of his or her current functional level. He or she should not make changes related to medication schedule, sleep pattern or meal intake before the appointment.
- Make sure the senior understands what will occur during the evaluation. "Generally, there will be a clinical component that may last approximately one hour and consists of tests of vision, physical abilities, memory and 'quickness' of mental functioning," Dickerson says. "There is usually a break, and then the person is asked to drive in the facility's vehicle, on roads in the neighborhood, for about an hour.” The senior also should understand that he or she will be driving a different vehicle during the evaluation. The test vehicle is equipped with an instructor brake to ensure safety for driver and evaluator.
- Someone from the senior’s family should attend the evaluation to help with the initial interview, which reviews driving history and medical history; to have another set of ears when results are relayed; to be informed of any suggested adaptations; and to be prepared to help with planning for driving retirement if that recommendation is made.
- Educate the senior about alternative modes of transportation that may become necessary if he or she no longer can drive.
"The driving rehabilitation assessment is often viewed as a mechanism by which older drivers lose their licenses," says Carol Wheatley, OTR/L, CDRS. "In actuality, the focus is on determining the means, such as adaptive equipment or strategies, to enable the person to continue to drive safely.”
The AOTA website contains resources to help visitors determine whether an evaluation is needed, what to expect during an evaluation, how to find a driving specialist and tips for safe driving. The website also includes additional information on these topics:
- Identifying changes that can affect driving,
- Family conversations,
- Equipment that can empower drivers, and
- Taking changes in stride.
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