Dear Savvy Senior: What tips or resources can you recommend to help elderly seniors extend their driving years? My dad, who’s 82, is still a decent driver, but I worry about his safety as he ages. — Inquiring Daughter
Dear Inquiring: With more than 40 million licensed drivers in the U.S. over the age of 65, there are lots of resources available to help keep older drivers safe and behind the wheel longer.
Here are some simple steps you can take to help keep your dad driving safely.
>> Get his eyes checked: Because about 90 percent of the information necessary to drive is received through our eyes, getting your dad’s eyes checked every year to be sure his vision and eyewear is up to par is an important first step.
>> Check his meds: Does your dad take any medicine or combination of medicines that make him sleepy, lightheaded or loopy? If so, make a list of all his medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and dietary supplements, and take it to his doctor or pharmacist for a review. You can also get help with this online at RoadwiseRX.com.
>> Evaluate his driving: To stay on top of any potential driving issues, you should take a ride with your dad from time-to-time watching for problem areas, such as: Does he drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes? Does he have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does he react slowly, get confused easily or make poor driving decisions? For more tips, see the National Caregivers Library driving assessment checklist at SeniorDriverChecklist.org.
If your dad needs a more thorough evaluation, you can turn to a driver-rehabilitation specialist who’s trained to evaluate older drivers. This assessment typically costs $100 to $200. Visit AOTA.org/older-driver or ADED.net.
>> Take a refresher course: AAA and AARP both have older driver refresher courses that can help your dad tuneup his driving skills, and learn how to adjust for slower reflexes, weaker vision and other age-related changes that affect driving. Taking a class may also earn him a discount on his auto insurance. To locate a class, contact AAA (AAA.com), or AARP (AARP.org/drive, 888-227-7669). Most courses cost around $15 to $30 and can be taken in the classroom or online.
Another good resource to look into is CarFit. This is a free assessment program that will help your dad adjust his vehicle for a better fit, making it easier and safer to drive. See Car-Fit.org to look for classes.
>> Make some adjustments: Recognizing your dad’s driving vulnerabilities and making small changes on when and where he drives can go a long way in helping keep him safe and driving longer. Adjustments may include not driving after dark or during rush-hour traffic, avoiding major highways or other busy roads and not driving in poor weather conditions.
You can find more tips at AAA Senior Driving at SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
And finally, when it gets to the point that your dad’s driving isn’t safe anymore and he needs to quit, The Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offer two helpful resources. Go to TheHartford.com/lifetime — click on “Publications” on the menu bar — and download or order the “At the Crossroads” and “We Need to Talk” guides.