Caretakers, health providers play important role for safety of elderly drivers

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RBC I Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus along with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have released a report examining how health care providers play a key role in often-difficult conversations about driving safety and driving retirement with older adults.

The report titled “Older Adults’ Preferences for Communication with Healthcare Providers About Driving,” examines how older adults prefer to talk with their healthcare providers about driving safety and planning for future “driving retirement.”
“Driving discussions with older adults can be emotionally charged and conversations on when to stop driving can be extremely difficult,” said report co-author Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health at the Anschutz Medical Campus. “Driving and mobility are linked to well-being and independence among older adults. But we are finding that most people will outlive their ‘safe driving’ period by an estimated six to 10 years. As a society, we need to be talking about driving safety while also planning ahead for both our loved ones and our own future ‘driving retirement.’”
Driving discussions are emotionally charged. Most older drivers said these conversations triggered negative emotions and indicated that they are afraid of the consequences of this conversation, especially losing their driving privileges. Healthcare providers are uniquely positioned to engage in positive, yet tactful, conversations with older adult patients regarding the risks and benefits of driving and future transitions to other forms of transportation. These conversations should be a routine occurrence.
Context matters. Older adults spoke of the desire to be recognized as an individual. Their age, health, gender, availability and accessibility of resources and alternative transportation must be part of this conversation. For example, rural values such as self-reliance and independence, coupled with the lack of access to alternative forms of transportation, can play a role in driving discussions.
Older drivers need time and support to reflect on the impacts of new physical challenges or medication effects on driving. They also need to adjust to the emotional consequences of driving retirement. Conversations should occur over a period of time, allowing for advanced planning, to avoid the need for abrupt and unexpected changes.
Older adults want to control their decisions over whether to seek assistance or retraining or to self-restrict their driving. Providers should engage and empower these drivers to make informed, rather than forced, decisions.
Safe mobility is essential to healthy aging. Lifestyle changes, along with innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the Baby Boomer generation.
“This report is not about encouraging older adults to stop driving,” co-author Carolyn DiGuiseppi, MD, MPH, PhD, professor and associate dean at the Colorado School of Public Health, said. “It’s about helping them on the road as long as possible in a safe way, while also having conversations to plan for future ‘driving retirement.’
“The reality is that there is not a magic number when individuals should give up driving,” she said. “But these conversations do matter whether you are a physician, family member or friend of an aging adult.”
Researchers hope the results will inform the future development and refinement of messaging to older drivers, which could support the integration of questioning about driving into routine clinical care. This could also be used by doctors, other healthcare providers, caregivers, driver licensing officials and others to help older drivers make decisions about driving cessation.