Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
Take a moment and think about your road to independence. You started out completely dependent on others to take care of you. Gradually, you grew up and learned to take care of yourself. When looking back, what would you consider the most significant milestones of gaining your independence? I’m pretty sure that getting your driver’s license would be right up there near the top.
For most of us, driving is a privilege we take for granted. And yet, it is a privilege awarded only to those who are old enough, demonstrate the skills and knowledge required by the state, and follow the rules. Driving gives us a sense of accomplishment and confidence. In short, the privilege of driving is, for most, a boost to our emotional wellbeing.
Unfortunately, while it may seem like we will always be able to drive, this may not be the case. As we enter our later years, physical changes make it more difficult to perform the tasks of driving. We often lose muscle tone and flexibility, our vision and hearing may change, and our reaction time naturally slows down. In some cases, Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia may develop, which hinders thinking, judgment, and memory. Any of these changes can impact an older person’s ability to drive safely. Indeed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011, approximately 17% of traffic fatalities in the United States were among people 65 and older.
And yet, it’s important to remember that not all people age in the same way. While some elders may show difficulty driving in their 60s or 70s, others will have no trouble driving into their 80s or 90s. That’s why it’s important not to make assumptions about your older loved ones or be hasty about trying to take away their keys. Imagine if someone did this to you. Recall how your emotional wellbeing, sense of independence, and identity rely on your ability to drive.
If you are older and are concerned about maintaining your driving acumen, check with your local motor vehicle department to see if it offers refresher courses. It’s also important to stay fit, flexible, and as healthy as possible. Be sure to have regular vision and hearing check-ups to address any changes. For a wealth of information, check out AARP’s Driving Resource Center.
If you are worried about an older family member who seems to be having more trouble on the road, here are some resources that can help:
- How to Understand and Influence Older Drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- At the Crossroads: Family Conversations about Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, and Driving by The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.
Administration for Community Living. (2014). Activity Guide for Older Americans Month 2014. https://oam.acl.gov/2014/docs/OAM-ActivityGuide-2014.pdf