December 5-9 is Older Driver Awareness Week

As our parents, grandparents or other loved ones age, we want them to remain independent and mobile – but we also want them to stay safe. With that in mind, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is promoting Older Driver Safety Awareness Week Dec. 5-9 to raise awareness surrounding the safety considerations for older drivers.

“With increasing age come changes in physical, mental and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s continued ability to drive safely,” AOTA’s Web site states. “But there are a variety of safe travel options for people of all ages. The real need is a broader awareness of the solutions, rather than a narrow focus on the problem.”

AOTA is calling attention to the following topics related to older driver safety:

Family conversations – While raising the issue of driving safety might be a sensitive issue for some older drivers, families must have this conversation to address safety concerns or questions. To learn how to best start or guide this conversation, download these free guides: How to Help an Older Driver and We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers.

Screening and evaluations – AOTA pointed out that as people age, their physical, visual and cognitive abilities might change. Older drivers should get “driving fitness” evaluations to determine if they are safe while behind the wheel. AAA offers information about self assessments and The Hartford offers a free guidebook, Your Road Ahead: A Guide to Comprehensive Driving Evaluations, which can be downloaded or ordered.

Driving equipment and adaptations – Wide-angle mirrors, seat cushions, a left-foot gas pedal or hand control could be automobile adjustments that help older drivers stay on the road – and stay safe. The community-based Carfit program can help older drivers remain comfortable and safe behind the wheel. Download the free brochure to learn more.

Taking changes in stride – Everyone ages differently, and at different paces, so no one can be deemed a safe or unsafe driver based on her age alone. The key is to be aware of subtle changes and understand when an older driver might be an increased risk on the road. AAA’s Older and Wiser publication describes the changes that might affect driving safety, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) site includes a Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully page. AAA also offers a list of signs that indicate an older driver should consider hanging up the keys, such as getting lost on familiar roads or having a series of crashes or near-misses.

Life after driving – A time might come when it no longer is safe for an older driver to remain behind the wheel. When that time comes, older people must learn how to get out and get around without a car. To ease into this transition, learn about alternative transportation options within the older driver’s community – including public transportation, friends and family who may be willing to provide transport, taxis, medical transport options and more.

AOTA stressed that occupational therapists are equipped to evaluate an older person’s ability to drive safely. They also may be able to provide rehabilitation for older drivers.

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