Caring for Your Senior Parent:
Relationship Between Memory Loss and Driving

One of the more challenging moments in the lives of adult children of senior parents is the point in time when consideration needs to be made of those aging mothers and fathers no longer getting behind the wheel of a car. Harvard Medical School reports on the dangerous connection between memory loss and driving. We begin this discussion on memory loss and driving with a review of five important facts that must be considered:

  • Memory loss can impair driving ability by reducing a person’s ability to recall details of the environment and traffic signals. This can lead to poor decision-making while on the road, such as failing to yield or obey posted speed limits.
  • People who have dementia may not be aware that their memory has declined and still try to drive, leading to hazardous situations on the roads. This can be especially dangerous if they are unaware of their physical limitations when operating a car.
  • About 40 percent of all fatal accidents involving older drivers have been linked to cognitive impairment, including memory loss. People with impaired memories need to take extra precautions when getting behind the wheel or find alternate means of transportation.
  • Short-term memory loss can also occur due to various medications or temporary illnesses, leading to decreased reaction time while driving and impairing one’s ability to recognize danger on the road.
  • There are programs in many states that provide resources for family members of elderly drivers who may have impaired memories. These include educational materials about safe driving tips for seniors and help obtain medical evaluations for proper diagnosis and treatment options for those with memory issues that could affect their ability behind the wheel.

Guidelines to Gage Whether Seniors Should Continue to Drive

The American Academy of Neurology has published guidelines to help clinicians know when individuals with memory issues, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia should stop driving. The guidelines can also be helpful to adult children of seniors and other family members when it comes to the question of whether or not an aging loved one should stay behind the wheel and on the road:

  1. Do caregivers report marginal or unsafe driving skills?
  2. Is there a history of citations?
  3. Is there a history of crashes?
  4. Are they driving under 60 miles per week?
  5. Do they avoid driving in certain situations?
  6. Do they show aggression or impulsivity in their driving?
  7. Is their cognition impaired on standardized testing?
  8. Is there evidence of other factors that can impair their driving, such as alcohol use, medications that cause cognitive impairment, sleep disorders, visual impairment, or motor impairment?

Essential Statistics About Seniors and Car Accidents in the United States

The number of car accidents in the United States involving senior citizens is staggering. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2019 alone, 6,316 fatal crashes involved drivers aged 65 and older.

When examining data since 2000 and accounting for population growth, it’s estimated that nearly half a million people have died in motor vehicle crashes involving seniors. In addition to the toll in terms of lives lost, senior-related car accidents also cause severe economic damage. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that medical costs and other expenses resulting from car crashes involving older adults totaled $46 billion in 2018. This computes to an average of $20 million per day.

Practical Measures to Lower Risk of Senior Car Accidents

Fortunately, there are several practical measures that both drivers and family members can take to help keep seniors safe on the roads. These are practices that should be considered and followed before the time point is reached when a senior should give up driving. These practical measures to enhance the overall safety of senior drivers are:

  1. Make sure that all prescription medications are up-to-date and taken correctly
  2. Have regular medical checkups for vision and hearing tests
  3. Avoid distractions such as talking on cell phones or eating while driving
  4. Practice defensive driving techniques such as scanning ahead for potential hazards
  5. Avoid night driving if possible
  6. Enroll in an accredited driver safety program tailored specifically for older adults
  7. Install additional mirrors or other devices designed for visibility enhancement while driving
  8. Limit nighttime travel by using public transportation whenever possible
  9. Consider alternate transportation options such as ride-sharing services
  10. Take extra caution when merging onto highways or changing lanes
  11. Stay alert at intersections by always looking both ways before turning right or left
  12. Always wear seat belts when traveling in cars

By following these simple steps, seniors can reduce their risk of being involved in a serious car accident and remain safer behind the wheel. To further reduce risks associated with senior car accidents, family members must understand what signs indicate deeper issues with aging drivers so they can better assess when it is time for an elderly person to give up their license voluntarily before any major incidents occur on the roads involving them. Ultimately, understanding senior car accident statistics is key to preventing tragedies from happening on U.S. roadways each day.

Six Tips to Talk to Your Senior Parent About Stopping Driving

Talking to a senior parent about stopping driving can be difficult and emotional. Nonetheless, it is important to have this discussion when the time comes. There are five tips and tactics to employ when the time comes to commence a discussion with your senior parent about continuing to drive.

  1. Focus on safety: When discussing the potential dangers associated with seniors continuing to drive beyond their prime years, focus on helping them make well-informed decisions that are in their best interest. Talk about the statistics on seniors’ driving abilities and the importance of putting safety first.
  2. Start the conversation early: Don’t wait until there is an incident or accident before having the conversation. Make sure your parent knows why you want to talk about it and how you care deeply for their well-being even while they can still drive independently.
  3. Have realistic expectations: Your senior parent may not be ready right away to give up their independence, as it is represented by the ability to drive. Therefore, don’t expect an immediate decision from your mother or father when you bring up the subject of changing transportation arrangements. Allow them time to think and process the situation while providing support so they feel comfortable with their eventual decision.
  4. Offer alternatives: Be prepared with a list of alternative forms of transportation that your aging parent could use instead of driving his or herself. These include transportation provided by: Family members, Public transport, Uber, Lyft, or other ride-sharing programs like Hitch or Scoop.
  5. Ask them what would work best for them and find suitable solutions together before entirely removing their ability to drive independently.
  6. Speak clearly and calmly: Avoid raising your voice or speaking too quickly during the discussion. This could lead your senior parent to feel overly defensive or frustrated with you for bringing up this topic in the first place. Keep calm and explain clearly why it is important for them not to operate a vehicle any longer so that they understand why it is necessary for their safety and other individuals.

It may take some time before your senior parent decides to give up driving. With that understanding, if you approach this conversation kindly, it can help ease any tension that may arise between all parties. As a result, the focus can remain on safety being a top priority in all areas of life, including when traveling by automobile.