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Sitting too close
We’ve all witnessed the stereotype of a driver squeezed up against the steering wheel when driving. Often, this is a senior driver hugging the wheel as they can no longer manipulate the car the way they used to, and they may not even realize they’re doing this.
Aging is inevitable. It happens to everyone at different rates and impacts individuals differently. These helpful tips from Pathways Driving Rehabilitation Services will make sure all drivers are riding in comfort and safety.
What to look for
Just like the ergonomics of sitting properly at a desk, the proper positioning and alignment in a car is key for comfort and safety of the driver. Carfit safety checks look for:
- A seat belt that holds the driver in the proper position and remains comfortable while driving.
- The tilt of the steering wheel and position of the airbag.
- Plenty of room (at least 10 inches) between the chest and the airbag housed in the steering wheel.
- A properly adjusted head restraint.
- A clear line of sight above the steering wheel and dash.
- Easy access to gas and brake pedals.
- Properly adjusted mirrors.
- Ability to see around the vehicle by reducing the driver’s blind spots.
- The ability to turn the vehicle’s ignition key with ease or operate an ignition system.
- Easy operation of vehicle controls including turn signals, headlights, emergency flashers, windshield wipers, and the parking brake, among others.
Need help? A screening with Pathways Rehabilitation Services can also help address any concerns and tailor solutions to each driver.
Time for a Driver Check-up?
We all try to take good care of our health with check-ups, eating-well and exercising the best we can. Before a long car trip, we make get the car’s oil changed, rotate tires and check with a mechanic to make sure the car is in its best road-worthy state. Many of us drive every day, so as we and our clients age it’s important to give ourselves a check to ensure a safe ride.
Can a person with Alzheimer’s still drive?
If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you may have concerns about their independence and safety, especially as it relates to driving. Unfortunately, at some point, inevitably drivers with Alzheimer’s will find a day when it is no longer safe for them to drive. Below we outline warning signs to watch for, but with a professional driving assessment such as those offered at Pathways Driving Rehabilitation Services, adaptations to the vehicle and a personalized driving plan can help extend the time an Alzheimer’s patient can safely drive.
What are the signs?
It can be difficult to determine if a driver is no longer safe to drive. With close observation, the following can be ways to help make the determination if the driver needs to be tested by a professional:
- Forgetting how to locate familiar places
- Failing to observe traffic signs
- Making slow or poor decisions in traffic
- Driving at an inappropriate speed
- Becoming angry or confused while driving
- Hitting curbs
- Using poor lane control
- Making errors at intersections
- Confusing the brake and gas pedals
- Returning from a routine drive later than usual
- Forgetting the destination you are driving to during the trip
Losing the ability to drive means losing independence. Having the conversation and deciding if it is time to hang-up the keys can be emotional and stressful. Here are some helpful tips from Pathways Driving Rehabilitation Services about making a difficult conversation go as smoothly as possible.
Each situation is unique, but empathy can go a long way. As the occupational therapist, involve family and close friends in the plan. Confront resistance.
Stress the importance of preparing for the future and develop an agreement for all to share that includes practical safety steps, such as a periodic driving assessment, a GPS monitoring system for the car, and alternate transportation options.
Some people give-up driving easily, but for others this transition can be very difficult. Be prepared for the person to become angry with you, due to the memory and insight issues that are part of Alzheimer’s Disease.
But where to start?
- Initiate a dialogue to express your concerns- it could take several discussions. Stress the positive and offer alternatives.
- Address resistance while reaffirming your unconditional love and support. Appeal to the person’s sense of responsibility.
- Reinforce medical diagnoses and directives.
- Consider an evaluation by an objective third party, such as Pathways Rehab Services.
Each case is different
In the Memory Loss Tapes, an HBO documentary produced outlining the struggles of driving while living with Alzheimer’s Disease, seven people are profiled showing how each driver’s circumstances and abilities vary widely even when living with the same disease.
Driving demands quick decision making
Planning ahead is key, according the the Alzheimer’s Association, the following tips will help insure a safe and respectful transition.
- Involve family and close friends in the plan.
- Confront resistance. Empathize with those who are uncomfortable having the conversation and stress the importance of preparing for the future.
- Develop an agreement for all to share that includes practical safety steps, such as a periodic driving assessment, a GPS monitoring system for the car, and alternate transportation options.
- Read more here.
Drive with confidence!
Please share these with your clients and family members and staff. It really helps us to make the connection between some of the changes we are seeing with clients and potential for how those changes may be impacting their safety with driving.
Driving Behavior Warning Signs by The Hartford
#1 Decreased confidence while driving
Have you noticed that your client appears more overwhelmed, more stressed, or they’ve mentioned their frustrations with driving in busier traffic? Their overall confidence while driving may be decreasing because they are having gradual cognitive changes. They may or may not be aware of them. Their families may or may notice them either. Many families are equally in denial of their loved one’s ability to safely drive. As an OT, if you really tune into your clients’ conversations, you may pick-up on subtle changes that may cause concern about someone’s driving abilities.
#2 Difficulty turning to see when backing-up
Many seniors have difficulty turning to see behind them. That is why trunk rotation and neck rotation exercises are so important to integrate in your therapy sessions. Rotation, along with general ROM and flexibility are important to keep up good driving skills. There is also adaptive equipment available at common auto parts stores. Extra wide mirrors and blind spot mirrors can buy people extra visibility and time to keep safe while driving.
#3 Riding the brake
This may not be something you would observe, but a family member may complain about it. People often are riding the brake without even knowing. That is because perhaps they have always driven with two feet. Now their attention and processing are delayed and they forget to take their foot off the brake. They are unaware they are doing this. This is a warning sign to look further into why this is actually happening.
Adapting with Age
In the coming years, older drivers will be on the roads, driving more miles per year, and at older ages than previous generations. For these drivers maintaining safe driving skills for as long as possible requires them to:
- Learn about new traffic laws and rules of the road
- Maintain proper following distance
- Change lanes and make turns safely and smoothly
- Enter and exit freeways appropriately
- Pay attention to dangerous “blind spots”
- Be able to safely yield
- Make safe left hand turns
Just because things change, older adults don’t need to stop an activity, they just need to modify it. Older adults can take actions to adapt to the changing driving environment. Here are some tips to help with that!
- Exercise to maintain good reaction time and maintain physical flexibility, especially in the neck and trunk
- Avoid distractions such as radios, cell phones
- Be mindful of medication side affects
- Choose times of lower traffic when running errands
- Choose routes that have lights because it allows for a more protected turn
Please review the AAA Senior Driver website with your clients. It has some great information about how to adapt driving as we age.
Contact Pathways Driving Rehabilitation Services to learn more.
Changes can be subtle
OT’s are keen observers and are trained to notice changes. This week I have sent you a helpful tool to help you learn more about naturally occurring changes.
When a client has significant changes, they may benefit from a driving evaluation.
Drive with confidence!
It may not be time to retire from driving just yet! Adaptations can be made to help drivers overcome challenges.
Larger audio and climate controls with contrasting text can help with vision concerns, and visors and extendable sun visors can help drivers with glaucoma, cataracts or other conditions.
Pedal extenders can help drivers obtain a safe distance from the steering wheel/airbag and steering wheel covers can improve grip for drivers with arthritis in the upper extremities.