Jan 10, 2020 12:00 AM


Driving as We Age

As we age and our bodies change, we face difficult shifts in our abilities. When the body just doesn’t work like it used to, the normal activities we’ve done for decades need a compassionate shift in understanding.

When we first learned to drive, we put in a lot of practice, we made some mistakes, and we always had experts to guide us. The Sugar House Rehab Clinic is made up of experts who specialize in helping drivers in their golden years recognize their abilities, their limits, and their options: do they need some practice, do they need vehicle adjustments and adaptive equipment, or do they need to design a plan for driving retirement.

Practice and Refresh

There are options for those who may just need a refresher course. Impairments in physical function can be improved in careful therapy. In the same way you care for your vehicle with regular maintenance, a physical tune-up with your healthcare professional can provide insight for what improvements might help with alertness in driving.

According to Marc Rosello, MS, OT/L, “It’s important to see your physician or even a therapist to get a ‘body tune-up.’” And consult your physician to find an appropriate strategy to keep moving. “Two key tips to maintaining your health are walking every day, as well as stimulating your mind by social interaction and activities.” A routine to keep active and moving can minimize cognitive impairment as we age.

Vehicle Tips

And be sure that your vehicle itself is also tuned up and running well. It’s vital for drivers to be familiar with all the features in their vehicle to improve reaction time and ensure safe operation and handling.

Rosello advises to have someone double-check that your seat is adjusted “the proper distance from the steering wheel, and that your eyes are at least three inches above the dash.” There are multiple ways vehicles can be adapted and adjusted to provide a driver with a better driving experience.

Rehabilitation After Injury

Rosello and his team specialize in helping those who are navigating certain disabilities or recovering from conditions, such as a stroke or injury, to resume driving through multidisciplinary therapy. “The physician, the family, the patient want to know if or when they’re able to resume driving” says Rosello. Therapists can provide feedback for making a plan to gain confidence back behind the wheel.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

When the level of confidence a driver has in the driver’s seat begins to decline, little things can clue in loved ones if it’s time to start discussing a new driving plan.

  • Riding the brake
  • Failing to signal or signaling improperly
  • Damage to car from misestimating distances
  • Inappropriate speed (usually too slow)
  • Unaware of road signs
  • Dependence on a copilot
  • Challenge in making left-hand turns
  • Near misses
  • Heightened stress in rush-hour or nighttime driving
  • Difficulty maintaining lane or safely shifting lanes

If you start noticing some of these shifts in confidence and ability, start talking about the options above. And if your loved one is reluctant to seek assistance in safe driving, third parties like physicians, therapists, programs through University of Utah Health, and even your local driver’s license division can be strong advocates in helping you know your best move.

Ultimately, keeping all drivers safe on the road is the goal, and if a trained professionals indicates that a driver needs a new plan, it can be extremely helpful to back that decision up with a thorough assessment to not leave any options on the table.

rehab geriatrics driving aging

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