OCTOBER 7, 2002 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 14
Driving is an enormously important issue to our elderly (and disabled) clients, their family and friends. In the western U.S. and particularly in Tucson, transportation without a car is difficult and inconvenient. Safety of both the driver and the public is paramount, but the loss of independence and self-esteem as well as easy access to groceries and medical care must be addressed when a loved one can no longer safely drive.
There is no mandatory cut-off age for giving up driving. However, even the healthiest senior citizens experience age-related "slowing down" at some point — less flexibility in movement, a decrease in night vision, blurred vision from cataracts, hearing loss, etc. When decreased physical or psychological function cause unsafe behavior —either on the road or in other activities — driving should be suspended until that behavior is evaluated.
If one has difficulty seeing to prepare meals or cannot hear when there is loud knocking at the door, driving is likely also a hazard. All drivers, but especially seniors (who tend to take increasing amounts of medication as they age) must be attuned to the fact that many medications create hazardous driving situations. For example, allergy medications as well as drugs used to treat high blood pressure often have a strong sedative effect.
Seniors and their friends/families have many information resources. Information available online includes the AAA-sponsored website www.SeniorDrivers.org and www.la4seniors.com, both of which help in identifying and addressing driving problems. For drivers concerned about maintaining their skill levels, AARP’s "55 Alive Driver Safety Program" is taught locally at the Pima Council on Aging (enrollment is limited; contact them at 298-3120 first.)
In 1999, the American Medical Association changed its ethical guidelines so that physicians, despite their duty to keep confidences, may report a patient’s driving impairments in order to protect public safety. Physicians or family members concerned that a senior should not be driving may contact the AZ Dept of Motor Vehicles, Medical Review Program at 1452 N Eliseo C. Felix, Jr. Way, Avondale, AZ 85323 [(623) 925-5795]. Advanced age alone is insufficient; the letter of concern should detail the driver’s deficits and must contain the driver’s name, address, date of birth, and if possible the driver’s license number.
Revoking a driver’s license may not stop the impaired driver. In a future newsletter we will discuss some strategies to deal with that problem.