By Elin Schold Davis, OTR/L, CDRS, Project Coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Older Driver Awareness Week
Through AOTA’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (Dec. 5—9, 2011), 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, and of resources available to maintain independence if driving is no longer an option.
Driving is a very difficult activity that requires certain physical, visual and cognitive abilities. As people age, those abilities often change in subtle ways. For example, older drivers may find it more difficult to see while driving at night, so they reduce night driving and plan their trips primarily in daylight.
Most of us go to the doctor for regular physical check-ups. It’s also just as important to get a check-up for driving fitness. After all, for most of us, driving is our main way to stay connected to the community and is a key to our independence.
Some driving fitness evaluations are self-assessments. These can be useful educational tools to help identify potential challenges to your driving health. However, if you’re concerned about the results of these informal self-assessments, it is important to bring your concerns to the attention of your physician. Or consider seeking an expert consultation by participating in a comprehensive driving evaluation from an occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist. To learn more about comprehensive driving evaluations, order a free copy of Your Road Ahead: A Guide to Comprehensive Driving Evaluations from The Hartford.
Intervention is based on a plan that is drawn up between the client and the therapist. The goal of intervention is to explore ways for individuals to drive safely for as long as possible. Occupational therapy practitioners can provide basic assessments and those trained in driving rehabilitation can suggest solutions, including adaptive equipment.
Physical challenges can often be compensated for by equipment, adding to a driver’s safety and confidence. If neck turning is limited or painful from arthritis a wide-angle mirror may offer a solution. If foot pedals are harder to manage when diabetic changes have resulted in partial amputation, hand controls can offer a solution to extend safe driving.
Achieving the safest “fit” in your vehicle is a must! CarFit is a free, non-threatening community-based program that enhances your comfort and safety while driving. For example, your airbag should have at least 10 inches to deploy and needs to be positioned toward your chest, not your face! Is your seatbelt bothering your neck? Learn how to adjust your seat and safety belt to achieve a comfortable fit, better ensuring that you’ll wear your safety belt on every trip! Occupational therapy practitioners are on-site to suggest potential solutions. Read the free brochure and sign up for an event near you.
Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Web page, Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully, download AAA’s Older and Wiser Driver or The Hartford’s You and Your Car 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.
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.
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/.