Sam Bauman: When it’s time for seniors to turn in their keys



The modern automobile is a marvelous creation. It takes us where we need or want to go, and it is a must for many of the working class who commute from home to work.

For retired seniors, it’s an expensive magic carpet that allows us to continue to explores our world, close or far.

But as we age we lose a degree of our skills in managing the 4,000-pound beast. When do we become a danger to ourselves, our passengers and other drivers?

One clue is when passengers complain, “You’re driving too fast,” or “too slow” or making risky left turns. Those comments can be alerts you should heed.

Perhaps the first objective measurement may come when you get your driver’s license renewed. I just did that the DOT station in a quick 30 minutes, with an eye test which I passed.

A couple of years ago, it might not have been as simple. Back then I had vision impairment due to cataracts. Cataracts made night vision poor and made it difficult to read roadside signs in time to make turning decisions.

The cataracts were removed by two simple operations, and it was like someone had turned on the lights.

The Mayo Clinic Health Letter noted many older adults suffer declines in vision, hearing, reaction times or mental functions that impair driving skills. But it’s an emotional thing when it’s time to pass along the car keys. Driving offers seniors the ability to do all the things they need to do without using buses or taxis. The Carson bus system offers free rides to seniors, but the ride isn’t as fast or direct.

Determining a driver’s fitness is a nebulous thing, perhaps best done by relatives with the driver.

Personally, after having a minor accident in California, I talked with my son in Minneapolis. The upshot of the discussion was that I would surrender my keys when I decided I was no longer a safe driver — flat out. No arguments or pleadings.

There is no cutoff age or simple test that can determine if you are a safe driver. Age alone is not a good indicator of driving abilities.

Those over 75 are involved in more traffic violations and nonfatal crashes than younger drivers. Each state has different requirements for driver’s licenses.

Here are some tips on determine if you should be behind the wheel:

Having a history of falls over the last one or two years.

Being in traffic accidents or having car violations in recent years.

Having difficulty with reading visual things such as a label, memory trouble, or difficulty with physical activity such as walking or getting onto or out of a chair.

Having near misses or other driving scares, getting lost, not following traffic rules such as driving through a stop sign.

Taking medications that can cause drowsiness or impairment such as antidepressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety or pain medications, for example.

Having medical conditions or heart problems such as diabetes, dizziness and balance snags, or a history of seizures.

If your feel you need an assessment of your driving fitness, check with your doctor to see if medications could be causing a problem. Several tests are available for health providers to assess and evaluate driving fitness.

An on-the-road evaluation is one of the best ways to rate safe driving. The Nevada DOT can point you in the right way to get such an evaluation.

If you need some brush up training, the AARP Safe Driving course and AAA’s program can help. Occupational therapists with training and rating older drivers can suggest changes in your driving that could greatly improve your time on the road.

For some, an evaluation may suggest giving up driving. If so, compile a list of those who could give you a lift when you need it. One place for such data is the Administration of Aging website, or by calling 800-677-1116.

Speak Out at the Forum

The Senior Center will host another session of the free-wheeling forum open debate series Friday, May 6. This is free speech among locals, no subjects barred. Takes place at 10 .a.m. at the Center with a moderator to keep things moving.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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