SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. -- In today's car-centric world -- especially in a place like Westchester County -- the inability to drive can feel like a loss of independence. This is especially true with seniors, who, as they age, can find themselves unable to safely operate a vehicle.
While the normal aging process can slow reaction times and on-road awareness, studies have shown that drivers with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia pose the greatest risk to themselves and others behind the wheel. The warning signs of a potential problem often vary, and may be slow to manifest. However, by simply going for a drive with an aging senior, identifying problematic tendencies is easier.
Common side effects of decreased awareness include driving at an inappropriate speed, failing to yield to cars or pedestrians who have the right-of-way, drifting between lanes, getting lost or driving without lights at night. If a loved one notices these symptoms in a family member, consulting the Occupational Therapy Department at Phelps Hospital and beginning a driver's safety evaluation is an important next step.
“When I evaluate an elderly patient who is having difficulty driving, I ask a close family member to join us so I can work with the patient and family as a team,” said Dr. Cathryn Devons, a Phelps geriatrician. During the evaluation, doctors perform a complete medical history, which includes cognitive tests, an inventory of current medication as well as a thorough physical exam. “If I find that the patient exhibits signs of dementia or a disability that impacts the ability to drive safely, I speak to the patient and family and recommend the person stop driving," said Devons. "If I determine that the person may be able to continue driving, I refer him or her to a driver evaluation program.”
The evaluation program is two-fold, and entails both a clinical assessment and road test. During the classroom examination, seniors are put through a range of tests to determine that their vision, hearing and cognitive abilities are sharp enough to continue driving. Those who pass the test are then referred to a driving school for an on-road assessment. Based on these results, seniors are either allowed to continue driving or it's recommended that they no longer get behind the wheel.
To schedule a driving evaluation clinical assessment with the Occupational Therapy Department at Phelps Hospital, call 914-366-3717.