By Nicolas McCarthy, CAOT
Older adults are the fastest growing portion of the driving population, with roughly 2.7 million drivers over the age of 65 on Canadian roads today. Older drivers have long been thought to be the safest and most cautious drivers on the road, taking into account their experiences, sheer number of kilometres driven and driving years behind their seat belts.
Regardless of this experience, older drivers have more collisions per kilometres driven than any other age group.
However, driving is an important occupation to many older adults in Canada. Driving enables the older adult to participate in daily activities we often take for granted such as driving to the grocery store, going to the community centre, and visiting with friends and family.
Fitness to drive
Age alone does not determine an individual’s ability to drive safely; but older adults may experience changes that can affect their ability to drive such as changes in: Vision, perception, cognition ability and physical ability.
Also specific medical conditions, such as diabetes and stroke, can impact driving. Presence of these warning signs does not automatically mean it is time to give up the keys; it may rather be time to take corrective action. Safe driving can be prolonged by education and information, vehicle technology, driver refresher education, driver assessment and intervention.
How occupational therapy can help older drivers
Driving allows older adults to get where they need (and want) to go to participate in the daily life activities. When effects of aging impact a person’s ability to drive, occupational therapists provide assessment to determine their fitness to drive, help reduce injury and promote safe-driving practices. They may suggest adaptive equipment, or a driver refresher program to keep older adults driving for as long and as safely as possible. When driving is no longer an option, they can prepare older adults for driving retirement and offer solutions to community mobility.
When the time comes that an older adult no longer feels safe to drive or has been told that they can no longer drive, it is important to implement some strategies to help them stay connected to their community.
• Plan for driving retirement before driving stops.
• Make a personal transportation plan.
• Collect information on local transportation options.
• Become familiar and comfortable with alternative transportation options.
Helpful ways to collect information on local transportation options:
• Check the blue pages or the Internet for local or regional transportation services.
• Check government or community services for older adult transportation services.
• Explore transportation alternatives such as:
– public transit;
– community shuttles;
– taxis, car hire services;
– specialized transit for seniors;
– volunteer drivers; and
– community rideshare groups.
It is important that older drivers connect with family, friends, neighbours and community members when exploring options for alternative transportation.
Older driver safety
The Canadian Associations of Occupation Therapists (CAOT) launched an Older Driver’s Safety website (www.olderdriversafety.ca) that provides information for older adults on how to maintain their fitness to drive and ability to drive safely for as long as possible and a series of informational brochures. CAOT has also developed a series of brochures on aging and driving available in English, French, Italian, Punjabi and Chinese. For more information or to request brochures call: 1-800-434-2268.