AMARILLO – Ike Hughes Jr. didn’t want to give up driving.
According to a story by Kris Abbey in the July 14 Amarillo Globe-News online, the 88-year-old wasn’t ready to give up the keys to his van. (http://www.amarillo.com/stories/071404/new_morning.shtml)
Just after 3 p.m. on July 12, Hughes’ van was hit by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 40 near Amarillo. The accident report from the Texas Department of Public Safety states Hughes was driving either very slowly or was stopped when the accident occurred. Hughes was killed. The other driver, who had been unable to stop, was not injured.
Giving up the car keys is a decision many older drivers don’t want to face, said Andrew B. Crocker, Texas Cooperative Extension gerontology and health specialist in Amarillo. Sometimes giving up the car keys feels like giving up freedom. But because one person’s driving affects the safety of everyone else on the road, no one should make that decision alone.
Nor should age be the only consideration. Physical condition, which varies from person to person, may be a stronger indicator of a driver’s ability than age.
“Changes in vision are probably the most significant consideration when evaluating whether or not a person should drive,” Crocker said. “As we age, our eyes need more light to see and they are more sensitive to glare.
“Also, peripheral vision is reduced,” he said. “These changes in the lens may be considered normal aging of the eye for most persons. Conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma or cataracts increase vision problems by affecting central vision.”
Other physical conditions of aging should be considered too, Crocker said.
“In addition to changes in vision, changes in the muscles and joints may affect the older driver,” he said. “Joints may stiffen and muscles may weaken, limiting the older driver’s ability to look over his shoulder to change lanes or back out of the driveway.”
Changes in muscles and joints may also make stepping on the brake more difficult, he said.
No one wants to think he is less physically strong than when he was younger, but age has a way of bringing frailties to bear that most younger people don’t have to face, Crocker said.
“Stooping or an inability to hold oneself upright may also contribute to problems with driving. Line of sight may be impaired because the driver is not able to hold his head completely upright.”
If an older driver’s physical condition hasn’t weakened too badly, perhaps concerned family members can agree on some compromises and driving restrictions, Crocker suggested.
“If an older driver has trouble seeing at night, the adult child may simply suggest that he or she only drive during the day. If freeways make the older driver nervous, the adult child may want to help the older driver find alternative routes,” he said.
“In situations like these, if an agreement is struck between the two, the older driver feels as though his or her adult child is helping facilitate independence.”
But if the older driver’s physical condition has deteriorated badly, what can the family do? In these situations, professional outside help may be required.
“Many times the adult child is not the best person to have this discussion with an older parent,” Crocker said. “Often a feeling of resentment or entrapment will follow.”
Instead, he advised, family members and adult children should enlist the aid of a health care provider in convincing the older adult to stop driving. If that doesn’t work, try bringing in business and government officials.
“It may come down to having the older driver’s insurance agent tell them that they will no longer be able to get insurance,” Crocker said.
“Another avenue would be to contact the Department of Public Safety regarding an evaluation prior to license renewal.”
These outside opinions can make an older driver understand the serious of the situation when family concerns may not.
Giving up the car keys may help older adults live longer, Crocker said. Sometimes leaving the driving to others is the only way to go.
For more information on gerontology health, visit Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ and click on the links to family life and to health and safety.
Other links Crocker recommended are:
- Extension’s Texas Town Safety: Older Driver Tool Kit http://tx.townsafety.com – National Institute on Aging – Age Page: Older Drivers, http://www.niapublications.org/engagepages/drivers.asp
- AARP – Driver Safety Program, http://www.aarp.org/drive/
- National Resource Center for Safe Aging – Transportation and Mobility: Safety Behind the Wheel, http://www.safeaging.org/consumer/consumer_view.asp
- Extension’s “Older Drivers: Keep Safety First” (Media Release) http://agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/CFAM/Aug2503a.htm