Assessing Elderly Drivers and the Interesting Results of a New Study

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posted by Ted Ryan on November 07, 2012

Confronting the declining driving skills of an elderly loved one can be a daunting task. A recent study in Canada suggests that perhaps this conversation should include more than an aging driver’s family or caregiver. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found that doctors may have more influence on this touchy subject.

Researchers spent several years tracking more than 100,000 patients who received a medical caution for being potentially unfit to drive. Comparing the severe crash rates before and after the warnings, researchers found a 45 percent drop.

However, the study also revealed a number of reasons that physicians may be reluctant to administer warnings. Of the patients that received warnings, about one in five changed doctors. There was also an increase in reports of depression.

Currently, few U.S. states require doctors to report patients suspected to be unfit drivers. Though doctors are not trained or required to evaluate driving ability, this report suggests that they certainly have some wisdom in knowing when to restrict drivers.

To help identify unfit drivers, the American Medical Association recommends the following simple tests:

  • Walk 10 feet down a hallway, turn around and comeback. Taking longer than 9 seconds is linked to driving problems.
  • On a page with the letters A to L and the numbers 1 to 13 randomly arranged, see how quickly and accurately you draw a line from 1 to A, then 2 to B and so on. This test measures memory, spatial processing and other brain skills. Doing poorly has been linked to at-fault crashes.
  • Check if people can turn their necks far enough to change lanes, and have the strength to slam on the breaks.

These tools and continued research will help to productively identify and assist at-risk elderly drivers and ideally prolong safe driving.

For further information and tools to identify and address senior driving issues, read our prior post on this topic and check out these other excellent resources. The Alzheimer’s Association, through their Dementia and Driving Resource Center, offers programs to help spot the signs of diminishing driving skills and advice for addressing the situation. The AARP also offers assistance through programs such as their “We Need To Talk” online seminar series. Additionally, AAA proves tips for evaluating senior driving and information about maintaining and improving driving skills.

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