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How Burke’s Driver Evaluation Program Can Help Aging Adults

Published May 6, 2015

For so many of us, the ability to get in the car and drive where we want, when we want means freedom and independence. The thought of giving that up can be devastating and often times a challenging decision to make for ourselves. Children and caregivers of aging individuals are often faced with the responsibility of convincing their parents and loved ones that it’s time to stop driving.

The ability for one to drive safely is dependent on several factors including intact vision, spatial skills, and cognition including divided and sustained attention, speed of processing visual and auditory information, memory, problem solving/reasoning skills and judgment. In addition, basic motor skills including motor planning, coordination, reaction time, muscle strength and range of motion also play a role. Experts agree that many of these skills can be impacted by the aging process, regardless of the presence of disease or condition. You might notice some of these changing in your aging parent or loved one, but how do you know if it’s impacting their ability to drive safely?

The Burke Outpatient Occupational Therapy Department offers a comprehensive two-part Driver Assessment program that can help caregivers sort out what steps to take regarding their loved ones ability to drive safely. The first part of the assessment is an “in-clinic” assessment and the second an “on-road” assessment. During the “in-clinic” portion, our skilled Occupational Therapists will assess all of the areas above and look for any potential red flags that might impact safe driving. If the therapist determines that your loved one can move on to the second portion they will be assessed by a Certified Driving Instructor who will basically observe their driving and challenge them in the areas highlighted by the therapist. The Occupational Therapist examines performance on BOTH portions of the assessment and makes a final recommendation based on your loved ones performance to their doctor.

You might consider a Driver Evaluation for your loved one if you are noticing any of the following:

– Any new dents and dings in the car, stories of “close calls” when driving or an increase of complaints of other drivers.

– Traffic violations or citations

– Trouble with managing medications or finances, remembering daily routines, reports of concerns from their friends or neighbors. Difficulties managing within the home can be an indicator of a larger problem.

– Hesitancy to drive to usual places or at certain times of the day ie: nighttime, rush hour

– Hesitancy to drive alone, recruiting a “co-pilot” 

Things you can do:

– Be aware of the medications your loved one takes and the potential effects and interactions they might have.

– Have a good sense of their overall health issues and try to ensure regular visits with their doctors as well as annual vision and hearing exams.

– Ask to go for a drive and be the passenger! Avoid commenting during the drive and just observe their habits. Are they driving too slowly? Braking or accelerating without reason? Are they having difficulty maintaining the car in the lane? Do they seem nervous or tense? Do they have trouble reading and following traffic signs?

– Let someone else be the “bad guy.” Sending your loved one for Driver Evaluation can alleviate some of the stress and unburden you from making the decision. Let an objective party be the one to make the recommendation.

– Find strength in numbers. If there are others who have concerns and examples, it may be easier for your loved one to hear the concerns.

Was it recommended that your parent stop driving? Click here for tips on how to cope with the news.

For more information on the Burke Driver Evaluation, please contact the information line at (914) 597-2187 or check out our website. We offer this program at both the Main Campus and Somers Satellite locations.

Burke’s Rehab Insights blog is updated weekly, with useful information for patients, their families and community members. 

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