Excerpt: 'The Driving Dilemma'

The easiest, most affordable, and comprehensive do-it-yourself home assessment is the Roadwise Review™ program, available from the American Automobile Association (AAA) for a small fee (approximately $15.00). The Roadwise Review™ program is not an assessment of actual driving performance, but it does provide an easy way for you to measure important functional abilities directly related to driving in the comfort of your own home. The program is on CD-ROM and can run on most home personal computers. The only drawback is that it requires access to a computer, and some of us are not experienced or comfortable computer users. If a person's unfamiliarity with computers would lead to results that aren't a valid refl ection of his or her abilities, then don't use this program. However, if the older person is familiar with computers, or is interested in learning about them, the Roadwise Review™ gives you an opportunity to generate concrete results about driving fi tness that can make your conversations easier.

Driving safely requires complex visual processing, quick and clear thinking, and fl exibility and strength. A change or loss in any of these functions (seeing, thinking, moving) could endanger you. The Roadwise Review™ program identifi es specifi c impairments that may pose a risk in many common driving situations and provides a good general discussion of driving fi tness. Eight areas are reviewed:

1. Leg strength and general mobility: you need these functions to accelerate and brake under regular conditions and to respond quickly in emergencies.

2. Head/neck fl exibility: this allows you to check blind spots when you back up, change lanes, and merge into traffi c.

3. High-contrast visual acuity: this helps you detect pavement markings, read road signs, and spot hazards in or near the road.

4. Low-contrast visual acuity: this enables you to maintain lane position and drive safely in rain, dusk, haze, and fog.

5. Working memory: this allows you to follow directions, remember traffi c rules and regulations, and make good decisions as you drive.

6. Visualizing missing information: this enables you to recognize and anticipate a threat or hazard even when part of it is hidden from view.

7. Visual search: this enables you to scan the driving environment and recognize traffi c signs, signals, navigational landmarks, and hazards.

8. Visual information processing speed: this allows you to pay attention to what is in front of you while also detecting threats at the edge of your fi eld of view.

This assessment requires two people, the driver and a helper. It also requires a stable, straight-back chair that does not roll, tilt, or swivel; a measured 10-foot path near the computer; and about an hour to complete. The results are completely private and available for your review after completing the program. I recommend it as an excellent fi rst step in determining your driving fi tness.

ASSESSMENT BY A HEALTHCARE PROVIDER

If an in-home assessment suggests a problem, the next step would be to consult with the older person's physician or another healthcare provider in order to do a more thorough evaluation. This typically will not involve an actual road test, which is the fi - nal and most defi nitive level of assessment.

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