By Guest Blogger Elin Schold Davis, OTR/L, CDRS, Project Coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Older Driver Awareness Week
Why dedicate a week to older drivers? The concern for their safety and independence is greater now than at any other time in our history. More than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, a trend that is expected to continue for the next 19 years. And by the year 2040, one in five Americans will be 70 or older.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) along with AAA, AARP, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. and other organizations are raising awareness of ways to keep seniors safe on the road for as long as possible. We are also working to let people know about resources to help seniors maintain their independence through mobility options.
AOTA’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is December 5-9, 2011, and it is our hope that during this time, families of older drivers will start conversations about important topics related to driving and older Americans, such as driving safety, when to stop driving and transportation options for seniors who can no longer drive safely.
The first step in addressing a concern is to have a meaningful conversation about the subject. Conversations that question whether an older person can continue to drive safely can easily spark strong emotional reactions. Discussions offered in haste or in response to an accident or other event can undermine feelings of respect, independence and competence in the older driver whose skills are being questioned. But a planned and thoughtful conversation offers the opportunity for good communication, problem solving and effective behavior change.
Many of us look to the older person’s physician or drivers licensing agency to help start these conversations. Although outside agents can play a part in the conversation, family and friends play a major role in these discussions. In addition, family will likely live with the consequences of these discussions for years to come.
Read these free guides to learn more about how to help older drivers:
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s How to Help An Older Driver guide
- We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers by The Hartford. You can order a free copy or download it from the site.
The best time for families to have these kinds of conversations is before there is a problem. Just as we plan for retirement, finances and where we might live when we get older, it is equally important to plan for our access to transportation, both as a driver and non-driver. These resources encourage us to plan ahead for the time when we or our family members may have to limit or stop driving. Also, occupational therapy practitioners have the skills to evaluate a person’s overall ability to operate a vehicle safely, provide rehabilitation and adaptations to help the person continue to drive and offer options for maintaining independence if driving is no longer possible.
Conversations between family members about safety and older drivers should be ongoing, but they often begin around holiday gatherings. AOTA offers strategies to help families start these conversations, along with options for ways to keep seniors safely on the road. Older Driver Safety Awareness Week national endorsers, including AAA, AARP and The Hartford, also have dedicated websites that provide public and health professionals with useful, timely information on the topic.
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources; setting standards, including accreditations; and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, MD, AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, visit http://www.aota.org/.