I often receive calls from concerned family members regarding their loved one’s safety with driving. It is such a difficult subject because driving represents freedom and independence. It is often people’s last sense of control and purpose. It is so important to stay connected to the people and places we love. In our society, driving is the easiest way to get from point A to point B. It is not always the safest way, especially as we age. When we age, our processing of information slows down. Our ability to see or hear and respond slows down. Our ability to quickly shift from one thing to another slows down. Our physical abilities also slow down. It is the combination of those affects that make it potentially unsafe for someone to drive. When there has been a cognitive decline, that is the time to be concerned. There is no magic age when it becomes concerning for someone to retire from driving. I have worked with a person in their early 60’s who had dementia and lost their way to the grocery store. I have worked with men in their 90’s who were very confident, alert, physically active and responsive with their driving. It is truly related to how someone’s condition and cognition have changed that prompts concerns.
Here are some warning signs family members, friends and neighbors may notice that would be an indicator that driving may not be safe:
1. Management at home declines. A person has had a shift in their ability to take care of their home. The laundry is not done like it used to be. There are dirty dishes in the sink and on the counter, when they used to be placed in the dishwasher. A person is overwhelmed with tasks around the house that used to be mundane.
2. Financial management needs some overseeing. When a person is making poor financial decisions, forgetting to pay the bills, writing little notes to themselves to pay bills and forgetting where they put the notes. Those are signs of cognitive decline.
3. Self care: When a person wears the same clothes day in and day out, or does not remember to take a shower. They become resistant when someone suggests to change their clothes or take a shower.
4. Decline in proper nutrition: When someone is loosing weight. When the food is outdated in the fridge. When a person needs reminders to eat. I recently had a client who is living alone at home with dementia. Her daughter works and brings over food each week. She placed the food in containers and put labels on them. When she came to check on her mother, the food was untouched in the fridge. One month prior, the mother had been cooking and eating properly. These are all signs of cognitive decline.
5. Emotional changes: It is common for people with cognitive changes to be anxious or easily frustrated. I observe people becoming very easily irritated and angry, which has not been their nature in the past. When there are cognitive changes, people lose control and this feels very scary.
6. Memory and attention changes: Memory loss, declining ability to concentrate, getting easily distracted, difficulty following conversation and organizing daily tasks affect safety with driving. Driving is a very complex task, requiring a high level of attention to many different stimuli at once.
When a loved one has any of these changes, it may be time to reevaluate driving.
If this sounds familiar and you want to discuss your concerns contact us today.