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Enlisting an Ally When You Can’t Persuaded Your Loved One to Stop Driving

September 30, 2012

One of the more difficult conversations between adult children and their parents is about when it’s time to stop driving—for senior safety as well as the safety of the general public. A child’s plea—even a spouse’s plea—call fall on deaf ears. But you may have an ally in your loved one’s primary care physician.

According to a Canadian study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, seniors’ physicians can play a vital role in helping identify elderly people who should no longer be driving. Over a three year period, study authors reviewed statistics on 100,000 people in Ontario, Canada who got a medical warning from a physician who judged them to be potentially unfit to drive; doctors in this Canadian province are required to report drivers who shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle because of a condition such as alcoholism, dementia, a sleep disorder or depression (similar requirements exist in just a handful of US states). They analyzed emergency room visits for road crashes during a baseline interval before the warning and a one-year subsequent interval after the warning.

Their findings were significant. Crashes after warnings were issued went down by about 45% per year among those given the warning. However, the loss of independence that accompanies the loss of being able to drive has negative effects—the researchers also found an increase in subsequent emergency department visits for depression and a decrease in return visits to doctors who issued the warnings. So, any attempt to get the keys from a senior needs to be thoughtfully undertaken. By considering all these factors, the transition off the road can be made less traumatic for seniors who have lost the skills needed to drive safely.