Excerpt: 'The Driving Dilemma'

I spoke with one of Dr. Perl's study participants, Ms. Nedinne Parker, aged 104. Ms. Parker is a devoted baseball fan (she roots enthusiastically for the Kansas City Royals), still lives independently, and drives once a week to her volunteer job at a local hospital. She is a remarkably healthy, active, witty woman who is still able to see, think, and move well enough to drive safely. Ms. Parker is modest about the fact that she still maintains her driving fi tness. She also realizes that she has some limitations and that others may be skeptical of her driving skills. During our conversation, she quipped that she doesn't have many friends or relatives clamoring for a ride: "Well, to be honest, I don't know if I would be too quick to jump in a car with a 104-year-old gal!" She has limited herself to driving only on local, familiar roads and only during daylight hours. As a result of these self-imposed limits she has been able to maintain her driving fi tness. Similarly, Mr. Edward Rondthaler still lives independently and is driving around upstate New York at 100 years of age. Mr. Rondthaler doesn't drive as much as he did when he was 80 (he drove across the country then), but he still enjoys driving around town and is doing so safely. These drivers remind us that it is not age but function that determines driving fitness.

Warning Signs of Driving Risk

If driving fi tness isn't determined by age, then what are the signs of impaired driving fi tness? Listed below are warning signs of impaired driving fi tness based on research and guidelines developed by advocacy groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the American Automobile Association (AAA), and the American Medical Association (AMA).

To help you remember them, I have categorized the warning signs by level of risk into red, yellow and green. "Red" signs point to the highest level of safety risk. Having one of the red risks is a signal to immediately begin the conversation about driving and to seek a professional assessment. "Yellow" signs point to a somewhat lower, but still signifi cant safety risk. Having one yellow risk is cause for concern, and having two or more is cause for concern and should prompt further assessment. "Green" signs point to safety risks that are usually easily corrected and, if corrected, can allow a person to continue to drive safely. If you are concerned about your driving or the driving of a loved one, the time to start talking is now. I can't stress this enough -- being proactive and informed helps everyone. Honest and open communication is the best way to develop a plan that respects the needs, wants, and safety of all involved.

RED SIGNALS OF RISK

One or more auto accidents in the past fi ve years. A recent history of accidents is a strong predictor of future mishaps. Did the accident involve another moving vehicle? Was it a single car accident? Did it involve hitting a stationary object? The details of the accident(s) are important in evaluating the overall risk of the accident.

Recent traffic tickets or police warnings. This is a serious indicator of suboptimal driving performance. Insurance companies raise their rates after a ticket or accident because such events tend to predict future problems.

Severely impaired vision, cognition, or mobility.

YELLOW SIGNALS OF RISK

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