Going home for the holidays has layers of significance for adult children, particularly those who live out of town. It remains a time of togetherness and thankfulness, but it’s also an opportunity to observe your aging family members to determine if their physical and cognitive skills are sufficient for safe driving. Following are three tips to help you gauge your loved one’s safe driving abilities during your next trip home:
Has your loved one fallen in the past year?
Recent research has established a definite correlation between falls and older driver crash involvement. According to an article published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, older adults that have fallen two or more times in the previous year may be at a higher risk of being involved in an at-fault car crash.
The study reported that older drivers who fell two or more times in the prior year were 1.5 times as likely to be involved in an accident and two times as likely to be involved in an at-fault car accident.
The study’s bottom line: a history of frequent falling can serve as a valid indicator in identifying older drivers who are at a higher risk for future traffic accidents. That’s pretty significant!
Are your parents physically active?
Exercise can help improve an older driver’s flexibility, coordination, strength, balance and range of motion. Simple stretching exercises can help an older driver look left or right more easily to check their blind spots, or to help ensure a safe lane change.
Exercise can also help an older driver turn their neck and body to look behind them before backing. How many tragedies have we read about where an older driver backed over a pedestrian in a parking lot or in some cases, a family member in their own driveway?
Another study reported those who exercised had greater ease in turning their heads to look in blind spots when changing lanes or backing up, compared with a similar group that did not exercise.
How is your loved one’s memory holding up?
For obvious reasons, when we discuss age-related diminished driving skills in older adults, we tend to focus on the physical attributes of safe driving (vision, reflexes, strength, flexibility, hearing, etc.), and may overlook the crucial role memory plays in keeping older drivers safe.
For any one of us, a significant decline in our memory can lead to disaster if we continue to drive without first making appropriate adjustments in our driving behavior and habits. Continuing to drive while ignoring noticeable memory decline can lead to tragedy.
Use your trip home this holiday season to enjoy family and to give thanks for all that we have. Take a few minutes to make sure your loved one physical and cognitive skills are still conducive to safe driving. Don’t be too hard on the older family member, remember…she’s who taught us how to hold a fork!
Guest columnist Matt Gurwell is president of Keeping Us Safe.