Screening Seniors for Fitness to Drive

As the mercury drops and perhaps a few snowflakes have already landed, it’s time to inspect the family vehicles to ensure they are ready for winter driving.  Besides a good tread on tires, plenty of winter washer fluid, and an ice scraper, it’s also important for loved ones to ensure their elderly relatives are safe behind the wheel. 

According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging Portal post, driving is a complex activity that requires the integration of visual, cognitive, physical, and perceptual skills.  Although driving for many older adults is important to maintain independence and mobility, changes in health may indicate a need for driving ability screening.  Vision or hearing impairment and diminishing motor skills can also affect a senior’s ability to drive safely. 

Although seniors who drive tend to have greater social involvement, frail older adults are also more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a vehicle accident.  Cognitive impairment, evaluated by a doctor, can negatively affect one’s ability to drive safely.  The Clock-Drawing Test, which is now part of Ontario’s Senior Driver Renewal Program for drivers over the age of 80, can quickly screen older drivers and indicate if further investigation due to cognitive changes is warranted. 

With the number of older adults rapidly rising, there will be more drivers over the age of 65 on the roads.  In Ontario alone, it is anticipated that the number of drivers with dementia will double, reaching 100,000 by 2028.  Effectively screening for cognitive decline and assessing fitness to drive is an important issue of public safety for health professionals and licensing agencies. 

For more information about winter driving, follow this link to the government of Ontario’s Driving and Roads webpage.   Older drivers can brush up on their skills by taking a defensive driver course online.  After many months of socially distancing at home during the pandemic, we could all probably use a refresher!