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Talking With Older Drivers

The growing number of older drivers and today’s driving complexities has increased the concern expressed by many family members and friends about the safety of a loved one. These decisions about driving are difficult for older individuals to make on their own. This guide is to initiate the conversation and assist you when the time is right to discuss driving and your elderly relative, loved one or friend.
More information is available at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation website: www.mto.gov.on.ca

Questions & Answers

What can I, as a family member or friend, do if I am concerned about the driving ability & safety of someone older who continues to drive?

Firstly, recognize that driving is very important as it is often our primary means of getting around.
Secondly, if there are other family members or friends available, communicate with them to see if they have made some of the same observations and discuss how you may be able to help the driver.

What can family members and friends do when a driver continues to drive against the advice of their doctor and others?

It is best to maintain a sense of trust in your relationship, being honest and persistent. Encourage your loved one to make a decision or reduce or stop driving as appropriate. Be aware that seniors who lose the privilege of driving often feel lonely or anxious because they have fewer opportunities to be with friends or involved in activities. If your loved one will not listen to reason you may want to discuss the problem with his/her doctor to find out if there are any medical reasons that should be reported.

If an older driver stops driving, what alternative means are available?

Most areas in the city have subsidized alternative transportation services, (if you qualify), such as the TTC’s Wheel Trans. Our agency can also arrange for transportation or simply check your Yellow Pages telephone book for alternatives. Be sensitive to the older person’s feelings. Expect some emotional reactions and do what you can do to help them through this trying time.

The Warning Signs

COGNITIVE Reaction time is one of the most crucial functions to safe driving. This slows with age but increasing distance between other cars and objects may help some older drivers.

VISION Good vision is essential to safe driving. An older person may notice difficulties focusing on objects and switching focus from near to far. The ability to see fine detail may diminish. Peripheral vision may also change with age. This is significant, since about 98% of what we see when we drive is seen first peripherally. Driving at night may become more difficult due to clarity and eyesight issues. As we get older, we need more light to see clearly. Approaching headlight glare may make it harder to adjust.

HEARING Some hearing loss is common among people age 65 and older. High pitched sounds may become less audible than low pitched sounds. This is important because horns, sirens and train whistles are high pitched. Studies show people who have hearing difficulties are more likely to be inattentive to their surroundings. Family and friends who suspect an older person doesn’t hear well should recommend a hearing exam and offer to go with the older person to get one.

The Bottom Line

It is important to understand that even after taking steps to correct diminished eyesight or hearing, and after successfully avoiding adverse reactions to medication, an older person still may not feel comfortable behind the wheel. Encourage the older person to discuss this with you, another family member, friend or doctor. As a family member or friend, you must be sensitive to this insecurity to effectively help your elder loved one.

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