Six Tips For Keeping Your Aging Loved One Safe Behind The Wheel

Nearly 600 seniors are injured in car accidents every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But age alone isn't reason enough to hang up the car keys–particularly because driving is inextricably linked with independence and mobility for so many older Americans. These six tips can help caregivers keep aging loved ones safe on the roads.  

1. Choose Checkups

While the majority of senior crash injuries occur due to medical complications and heightened susceptibility to injury, many are also linked to age-related declines in physical and cognitive function.

One way to make sure that your aging loved one's driving abilities haven't undergone potentially dangerous changes is to schedule routine visits with a physician, who can check for everything from vision loss to arthritis.

In many cases, prompt diagnosis leads to simple and effective solutions. For example, 47 percent of people over the age of 75 suffer from some form of hearing impairment. Recent developments in hearing aids and today's sophisticated hearing aid brands make it easier than ever to manage hearing loss and keep seniors safe while driving. If your interested in learning about hearing aids, click here for more information.

2. Monitor Medications

Polypharmacy is a frequent problem among seniors and can lead to catastrophic outcomes -- especially on the roads. According to AAA, more than three-quarters of seniors use at least one medication, but fewer than one-third of them are aware that medication can impact their driving performance.

Maintain a comprehensive list of the medications taken by your senior. Ask your aging loved one's doctor or pharmacist to review it regularly in order to help identify potentially hazardous drugs and drug interactions.

3. Start With Strength

While some physical decline is a natural part of the aging process, exercise counters these effects and helps seniors keep up their strength. Regular exercise, with a focus on strength training and balance work, builds strength, increases flexibility, and enhances range of motion. Not only do these activities foster better driving performance, they also support quality of life by boosting confidence levels and preventing trips and falls.

Even baby steps can make a big difference. Encourage your aging loved one to start small and build from there. Physical therapists offer invaluable partnership in helping reluctant seniors stay safe and motivated while incorporating fitness into their lives.

4. Plan Ahead

While many people can continue to drive well into their golden years, it may not be the carefree, get-in-the-car-and-go fantasy of youth. Instead, planning ahead can help seniors prepare for everything from adverse driving conditions to unfamiliar routes.

Caregivers should encourage seniors to limit driving to decent weather and daylight hours whenever possible, as well as to map travel routes out in advance.

5. Make It Easy

Distracted driving is an issue for people of all ages, but seniors are particularly susceptible. While technology like cell phones and GPS offers benefits in certain situations, it can also be a distraction behind the wheel. Make sure seniors aren't multitasking by using GPS devices or cellphones while driving.

Also, encourage your aging loved one to refrain from listening to the radio while driving and to keep their cognitive abilities sharp by getting enough sleep.

6. Explore Options

The more transportation options seniors have, the less likely they are to become involved in compromising situations while driving. Ride sharing, public transportation, and seniors shuttles are all widely available. Check in with local senior centers to learn about options in your area. 

There's an added benefit of looking into these modes of transportation early. Acclimating to these methods of transportation before they're completely necessary can make the transition easier when driving is no longer an option.

One last thing to keep in mind when contemplating senior driving safety: if you have questions about your aging loved one's abilities behind the wheel, open lines of communication are essential. While starting the conversation may be difficult, it can also save lives.