Decision for Senior Citizen to Stop Driving Impacts Mental State, Well-Being
‘Aging is a process where so many things are lost. Part of what seniors try to hold onto
is their independence.’
May 1, 2012 - If a senior citizen’s driving raises concerns, approach the matter
compassionately to preserve the person’s dignity and keep them and others safe, recommends a geriatric specialist with the Harris County (Tx)
Hospital District. The decision to end driving for a senior can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, affecting the person’s
mental state and overall well-being.
Driving safety is an important obligation for all drivers but for many older people
disease or advanced age will eventually negatively affect their driving abilities.
“Aging is a process where so many things are lost. Part of what seniors try to hold onto
is their independence - the independence to make decisions about their health, their future and their driving. To them, driving is more than a
way to get from one place to another,” says Dr. Kavon Young, of the Silver Seniors Clinics run by the Houston-area hospital district.
Losing the ability to drive can be a big blow to self-esteem to a senior and could trigger
depression, anxiety and loneliness. In some cases, seniors may feel isolated and not want to keep up with their medical care, she adds.
Seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of America’s population. Making a decision
to limit or restrict driving should not be taken lightly.
“A lot of factors and family participation go into discussing driving with seniors because
the goal is maintain their dignity in the process. These are adults and should be treated as such,” says Young, also an assistant professor,
Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at
If worried about the ability of a loved one to drive safely, the ideal situation is to
talk to them early about driving and safety concerns. Young suggests being open and honest to help when decisions like driving are determined.
While most seniors will limit their driving, if they don’t feel safe, some may not be aware of deficits in vision or memory and will not
voluntarily limit their driving.
Signs that driving could be an issue include:
• Longer drive times for short distances
• Not obeying traffic signs
• Forgetting destinations or locations
• Hitting curbs
• Being angry or anxious when driving
Driving a vehicle requires full use of senses like hearing and sight, as well as good
muscle coordination of hands and feet. Any impairment like tremors, a loss of hearing or memory impairment could prove to be dangerous for the
individual and others on the road.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a
total of 4,139 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, representing a 4 percent increase from the previous year.
However, the same report shows a 42 percent decrease in fatalities per capita among older
people since 1975.
“Start the discussion early and agree that you won’t make a decision based on one
particular event. Having this agreement will take the pressure off the senior. Sometimes, family members or caregivers get upset and decide to
stop all driving privileges, which can be traumatic for the senior,” Young says.
Tips for easing driving privileges for seniors include:
• Limit drives to short distances
• Drive only to familiar places
• Avoid driving at night
• Avoid driving during bad weather
• Build a chauffeur list with family, friends or church members
Help from Occupational Therapy Driving Rehabilitation Assocation
Why Choose an Occupational Therapy Driving
The AOTA says:
“Driving is a very complex task. Understanding all of the factors that make it possible to
drive safely and that may present barriers to a driver continuing to drive safely requires specialized training.
“Occupational therapists with such specialized training in driver rehabilitation are able
to identify not only a driver's strengths but also the physical, visual, and cognitive challenges the individual faces. As a result,
occupational therapists can evaluate an individual's overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and, if needed, recommend ways to limit
“Not all driver rehabilitation specialists are occupational therapists. But occupational
therapists have the extensive training and knowledge needed to recognize the impact of medical conditions and the aging process on driving
performance. They use skill-building, behavioral, and adaptive approaches to keeping a person mobile in his or her community, even if he or
she must limit or stop driving.
“Driver Rehabilitation Services may be available in some areas and not in others. If you
cannot find a driver rehabilitation specialist in the data base in your area, contact your local rehabilitation hospital's occupational
therapy department for help in locating a driver rehabilitation program. AOTA is constantly working to expand and update the driver
rehabilitation specialist data base.”
Help from American Automobile Association
To help manage the effects of aging on driving ability, AAA offers the following resources for older drivers:
SeniorDriving.AAA.com - This website provides expert advice about how aging affects ones ability to drive safely. Users also will
find a step-by-step guide on how to begin a conversation with an older driver about the need to work together on an action plan for the
transition from driver to passenger. Additionally, users will find a variety of tools and resources, from educational brochures and driver
improvement courses, to skills assessment tools and free community-based programs.
How to Help an Older Driver - This booklet from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides a helpful framework as you search
together to learn how to preserve your loved one's personal freedom and mobility, while ensuring their safety and the safety of other road
● AAA Roadwise Review is a computer-based self-screening tool designed to assess a driver's functional
abilities important to safe driving.
● CarFit and AAA's Smart Features for Mature Drivers help to enhance seniors' comfort and safety while
● Safe Driving for Mature Operators classroom and online courses provide driver training to help address the
changes caused by aging and how a driver may compensate.
As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA says it provides more than 52 million members
with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has
been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at
More Links to Archived Reports on
Senior Citizens and Driving