Hitting the Road: Long Beach Memorial Ensures Older Adults Get Fit for Driving

Organization: Author:
Roger Kim, OTR/L & Ernest Santos, OTR/L, licensed driving instructor
Live Health Topics:

Driving laws constantly change nationwide. In the last few years, newer vehicle technologies have advanced greatly with more “bells and whistles” to learn than ever before. This alone can affect a mature driver’s ability to travel with confidence.

By 2030 more than 70 million Americans will be 65 and older – and 90 percent will be licensed drivers. As older adults take on the challenges of driving while aging, they should be assured that there are resources to help them gain understanding and remain safe and secure on the road.

Many of the issues that older adults may encounter behind the wheel may be directly or indirectly related to their health:

  • Vision impairment
  • Attention issues
  • Improper car fittings (i.e., maladjusted head restraints, rear view/outside side mirrors, steering wheel positioning, etc.)
  • Lack of flexibility or strength, due to arthritis in the hands, knee/hip problems or a stroke
  • Lack of understanding of how to adjust new car parts (i.e., new car sensors, back-up cameras, automatic door locks/windows, etc.)
  • Side effects due to medication
  • Extended time away from driving

Sometimes it’s hard for older adults to recognize that their driving has “slipped.” Family members and close friends should be vigilant if they recognize that a mature driver has issues pertaining to memory loss, missed medications, lane veering while driving, or if he/she chooses not to drive during the night or early morning - all of which can affect safe driving.

It is recommended that more mature drivers and their loved ones, who act as passengers, take advantage of educational resources to help identify and correct issues with driving and to help older adults get their independence back.

Long Beach Memorial, in collaboration with AAA, AARP and AOTA, acts as a hosting site for the CarFit program, which creates the best fit for drivers to their vehicles in a non-threatening environment. The program serves to maximize safety and the functional independence of older adults while driving. By using CarFit, mature drivers receive:

  • Safety information and resources
  • A 12-point checklist for proper car adjustments and fitting
  • Recommendations for aftermarket items (i.e., adaptive devices)

Older adults, who may have sustained an injury or may have not driven over a long period of time, should take their time before choosing to drive again. Driving confidently again is a gradual process. In addition to hosting the CarFit program, Long Beach Memorial offers the public a Driving Rehabilitation Program that can further assess one’s driving fitness. Through this program, occupational therapists serve as clinicians who can offer a mature driver a unique perspective on his/her physical, mental and cognitive abilities necessary for driving. For example, if a mature driver has suffered from a stroke, the program’s therapists can work to evaluate his/her individual needs, recommend numerous aids and prepare him/her to progressively get back on the road.

If driving is not an option, mature drivers also should remember that there are various options to choose from that will allow for safe transportation, including public transportation or riding with a loved one. Mature drivers also can take advantage of the MemorialCare Senior Plus program, which offers its members transportation to Long Beach Memorial and physician offices within the area.

Older adults still have the power to drive, but as they age, it is important that they are proactive about staying aware of the physical or vehicular changes that may impact their driving. Mature drivers should know that they have many options and can seek alternatives to help them have the best drive possible. It is the responsibility of the older driver and their family to keep him/her own self and the general public safe.