Friday, December 2, 2011

Seniors and Safe Driving

Older Driver Awareness Week, recognized by the American Occupational Therapy Association December 5-9, helps bring attention to older driver safety

Patty McKinney, OTR
It's a fact of life that people grow older every day. And with increasing age come changes in physical, emotional, mental and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s continued ability to drive safely. These changes occur individually and at different times.

Age alone is not a good predictor of driving safety or ability. But safety research shows that declines in our physical, emotional, and mental abilities may increase crash risk or unsafe driving. One key to safety is knowing when we or another driver are at increased risk. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's web page, Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully, or download AAA's Older and Wiser Driver to read more about the changes that can affect safe driving and the signs that indicate the need to take a closer look at a person's driving.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) believes that occupational therapy practitioners have the skills to evaluate a person’s overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and provide rehabilitation, if necessary. Occupational therapy practitioners work with older adults as well as their families and caregivers, offering individualized assessment. They can identify individuals’ unique challenges and find strategies that will help them live life to its fullest by keeping them healthy and safe in their communities, including behind the wheel.

It is the mission of the AOTA to make sure older adults remain active in the community—shopping, working or volunteering—with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home. The goal of occupational therapy intervention is to explore ways for individuals to drive safely for as long as safely possible, according to a defined plan created jointly by the individual and the therapist. Occupational therapy practitioners can provide basic assessments and suggest solutions, including adaptive equipment such as a wide-angle mirror, seat cushions, left-foot gas pedal, or hand controls.

For most of us, it's difficult to change from the convenience and independence of driving ourselves to relying on some other means to get around, but thankfully, there are alternatives for seniors who can no longer drive safely. Many prefer to ask family and friends to help them. And most communities around the country, Garfield County and Glenwood Springs included, have other choices ranging from public transportation to specialized programs for people with identified needs. 

Check for information on The Traveler transportation program. The Traveler's mission is to serve as a specialized transit organization linking seniors and the disabled with independent lifestyles through mobility. The City of Glenwood Springs provides ADA-compliant transportation around the community with its free Ride Glenwood transit system. Find out more at

Patty McKinney, Occupational Therapist, is the owner and operator of Glenwood Springs Harmony House, an assisted living facility with peaceful accommodations and professional, qualified personal caregivers.

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