Senior's Health

Does My Loved One Need a Driving Evaluation?

Have you noticed scratches on your loved one’s car? Or, perhaps he or she seems more nervous or frustrated behind the wheel. These are just a few of the telltale signs that he or she may need a driver ability screening.

“Never let it go too long and don’t ignore the signs,” Lesa Saunders, an occupational therapist in TriHealth’s Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy Department, explains. “It’s not an automatic thing where people come in and we take their license from them … a lot of times a little bit of work can make a big difference.”

Ways to Recognize Your Loved One May Need a Driving Evaluation

If you care for an older adult, Lesa says to watch for the following signs that could clue you to consider talking with him or her about having a driving evaluation.

Signs to watch for if you’re a passenger:

  • A pattern of close calls or minor accidents, whether he or she gets a ticket
  • Increasing difficulty noticing pedestrians, signs, objects or other vehicles (running a stop sign, for example)
  • Being surprised by cars or hazards ahead and having to break extra hard in order to stop
  • Difficulty turning his or her head, neck or shoulders, making it hard to check for cars behind
  • Difficulty keeping a car in the center lane or drifting back and forth
  • Changes in emotion, like increased nervousness, anger or frustration behind the wheel
  • Getting lost or having trouble navigating familiar areas

Signs to watch for outside the car:

  • Fender benders
  • Rapid fatigue from driving, meaning he or she may need to rest after running an errand because it’s taking more energy than usual to focus on driving
  • Forgetfulness, like constantly forgetting where he or she placed the keys

How Medical Conditions Affect Driving

Any kind of neurological impairment, like a stroke, heart attack or head injury, can impact someone’s ability to drive. “These are all things where their body takes a while to recover and, lots of times, we’ll tell people to wait at least six weeks after something major like that,” Lesa points out.

If your loved one has experienced a traumatic neurological or physical issue, his or her doctor may suggest outpatient therapy, which may even include speech therapy, which helps with the speed of information processing. “I’ll work a lot on hand-eye coordination and I’ve had a pretty good record of getting people back on the road,” Lesa says. “The last time I counted I had 14 out of 16 people go back to driving, but we’re talking about, maybe, a three-month delay after a pretty serious medical event.”

On the other hand, taking certain medications can affect one’s driving ability, too. Be sure to ask your loved one’s doctor about the side effects of any new medications he or she is prescribed and how the medication will interact with any existing medications he or she already takes.

The American Occupational Therapy Association


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