Senior Care – Evaluating a Person’s Ability to “Safely Drive”

Many of my elderly patients seem to take comfort in the fact that they “no longer drive at night,” or “only drive in the community.”  I am not certain that these self-imposed restrictions actually provide any major reduced risk or protective benefits. In Florida, with a lack of public access transportation, giving up your car is giving up your ability to get around.   It’s also perceived by most elderly as giving up their independence.

As part of a routine office visit, I’ll ask my elderly infirm patients “How did you get to the office today”? A common response is that they are still driving independently.  This same patient, who needs assistance getting up the building’s ramp and a 60 minute appointment just to get out of their clothes and into a gown for an examination, is guiding a 5,000 pound vehicle on the roads.

Unfortunately, there’s very little data available that provides guidelines as to when an elderly infirm person should stop driving.  There is even less data supplied by the State of Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

It is clear that after a neurologic event such as a seizure or loss of consciousness there is a state mandated cooling off period before you are permitted back behind the wheel. It is less clear in an individual with diminished hearing, diminished  eyesight  and diminished flexibility whether they should be driving and how much?

Thus, I was pleased to learn that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles and a local rehabilitation facility run a State supported Senior Adaptive Driving Program. Pine Crest Rehabilitation Hospital in Delray Beach runs a comprehensive driver evaluation and instruction program. It is far more individualized and comprehensive than the programs run for seniors by their auto insurance companies.

In the Program, trained professionals thoroughly evaluate the person’s abilities to safely drive and help adapt the vehicle to assist the senior. If the professionals say you are good to go then you are qualified and capable. If you are not qualified to drive, they begin the process of rescinding your license.

When patients’ children contact me with their concerns about their parents’ driving abilities I refer them for this evaluation all the time. I highly recommend it for those of you questioning your driving abilities or those of your elderly loved ones.

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