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Nancy Shonka Padberg

Ms. Padberg is a former Fortune 500 Times Mirror executive, Integrated Marketing Communications Vice President and MBA graduate from the Graziadio School of Business & Management at Pepperdine University. Ms. Padberg has over 17 years of publishing and marketing expertise, served on several boards, is a guest speaker, published author, former Big 12 golfer and resides in Santa Monica.

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Best Boomer Towns Columns

When Driving a Car is a Perilous Proposition for Your Parents

The Signs to Look for and What You Should Do for impaired vision, diminished flexibility and reduced reaction time-a deadly recipe for many Elderly Drivers.

I floored the gas pedal. My head whiplashed. How fast the car was going I'm uncertain, but it must have been at least 50 MPH in less than 10 seconds. It required a bit of effort, but I took my foot off the gas, momentarily coasted, then jammed on the brake pedal as hard as I could and swerved hard to the right attempting to avoid an oncoming car. A pretty harrowing experience!

If only my reaction time had been a split-second quicker. And, if only my neck, legs and arms had the range of motion they once had when I was younger. Not to mention my eyesight. I couldn't see the traffic signal very well.

Fortunately, I was driving on a closed-course track at Rentschler Field in East Hartford CT and, at all times, was in the comforting presence of a professional defensive driver from Liberty Mutual and was following his instructions.

But the scenario I just described is not unlike what many elderly drivers may experience when they are operating a motor vehicle. Impaired vision, diminished flexibility and reduced reaction time is a deadly recipe for any driver no matter what age he or she may be.

My ordeal that day at the closed-course track opened my eyes, literally, to the perils of driving that many seniors may experience. I was a fitted with a specially-designed "senior simulator" suit and special vision-impairing glasses to help simulate the effects of aging on my driving ability.

At 61, I am in reasonably good health. My range of motion is average for my age. My reaction time, although slowed from what it used to be when I was 28 years old, remains good. And my eyesight is 20-20 with glasses. The notion that someday I might have to surrender permanently the driver seat for the passenger seat is not on my radar screen.

The issue of when a person should stop driving can be filled with emotion and, if not handled properly, can lead to a dispute among family members that can unravel a relationship to its very core.

My father-in-law was in his late seventies when it became abundantly evident that driving a car would not only place him in peril, but other nearby drivers and pedestrians. We think he sensed it himself that the days of tooling around town were nearing an end. It was only after my wife and her brother sat down and talked with him that he agreed to give up the car keys. Interestingly, though, he refused to give up the car. For two years the car remained in the garage before it was finally sold.

My uncle was 83 at the time when he was not longer able to safely drive a car. Despite pleadings from his adult children, he strongly resisted turning over the keys. Finally, he relented, but only when his wife refused to be a passenger anymore if he was behind the wheel. Tough lady, my aunt. Good for her.

Friends in Michigan are, right now, dealing with the same issue with their 80-year-old father. I know the man. He's a terrific guy, although more stubborn than a mule when it comes to heeding the warning signs about driving. Here's a guy who routinely falls, had a hip replacement, and has the range of motion of a stale pretzel.

These three examples can be repeated unfortunately thousands of times across the nation.

For example, I received this email from Marie (last name omited for privacy), who faced a very similar, yet familiar, situation. Marie writes:

"Yes this can be a very difficult step to take with your elderly parents. I am one of five children; our mother turned 79 in January of 09. About 5 years ago she was diagnosed with "pre-Alzheimer's." She was having mishaps with driving just prior to this time, knocking off the side mirrors, running into things taking a corner into a driveway to sharp, etc.

So she fought long and hard to keep the freedom to drive, especially since she was mostly self sufficient and lived alone. Other family drama and circumstances occurred to create the need to finally take the keys for good. Then, we worked in coordination as a family, with her primary care doctor, and, at that time, part-time care givers, to encourage her to not drive. We only allowed her to drive with one of us in the car. This was oftentimes a nerve racking experience. Then, unbeknownst to her, because we notified the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, in our state, and sent a letter from her doctor which stated she should no longer drive, they revoked her license, but it stated she could get it back upon passing a driving test. Well, that was over 6 months ago and she no longer talks about re-taking her test, much less studying for it.

My suggestion is that the family members, as well as close friends, must work together and continue to communicate to the person the safety of the situation, AND work out other options, public transportation, care givers, friends to take them to church, etc. It is a tough thing to take away this "right," but I feel that the responsibility lies with those closest to the elderly driver, (even if this means close friends), as in our experience, the elderly person themselves is usually NOT willing to stop driving. You have to be willing to create a bad effect on them in order to save their life and the lives of others on the road."

The Warning Signs
If you have noticed any of these warning signs in your parents driving, perhaps it's time to start the conversation with them about driving safety:

> Running red lights or stop signs
> Performing jerky stops or starts
> Problems seeing road signs or traffic signals
> Hitting curbs
> Straying into other lanes
> Reacting slowly Riding the brake
> Easily distracted while driving

The purpose of the event I attended in CT was for the introduction of the Driver Seat Game by Liberty Mutual.

The Driver Seat Game is a comprehensive program to provide families with resources that address the emotionally charged issue of determining when it's time for elder parents to transition from driver's seat to passenger seat.

The web-based game is an innovative digital approach to tackling the highly sensitive subject of senior driving. A series of mini-games actively portray the challenges many senior drivers face by dramatizing visual decline, reduced mobility and poor reaction time in three impairment stages that act as the game's difficulty settings. Players must navigate different driving scenarios: busy traffic, going to the grocery store, finding parking in crowded lots, and even evading wildlife on winding country roads. Additionally, trivia challenges throughout the game educate the player and reinforce the underlying campaign goals of awareness and empathy in the active game experience. The Driver Seat Game will empower adult children to work with their parents to find a transportation solution that makes sense for their family.


I played the game and really think it is the best way for Baby Boomers - and, frankly, people from all age groups - to understand the problems faced by older drivers.

While presented as an online game, it is compellingly realistic for the aging population and addresses some very serious issues. Most importantly, it sensitizes adult children to the very emotional changing needs of their parents.


A what a Conversation Starter!
The Driver Seat Game is a great conversation starter, too. Most families are simply not addressing the very important issue of senior mobility, perhaps because they feel ill-equipped on how to approach it.

According to a recent national survey of Baby Boomers and senior drivers by Liberty Mutual, the vast majority (75 percent) of adult children say neither they nor anyone to their knowledge has ever spoken to their parents about driving safety issues. An even greater percentage of seniors (88 percent) say no one has had these conversations with them.

The survey sheds light on a possible reason why Boomers and their aging parents don't discuss driving safety. More than half of Boomers (58 percent) think their parents would find a conversation about changing their driving habits "uncomfortable," and more than one in three (38 percent) believe their parents would "be angered" by such a discussion.

Encouragingly, revealed the Liberty Mutual report, this isn't the case. Only one-quarter (24 percent) say they would find the conversation "uncomfortable," and 9 percent say they would "be angered." Further, 92 percent of seniors say their adult children "have a right" to raise this issue with them.

The Driver Seat Game and other comprehensive online resources can be found HERE at the Liberty Mutual senior driving resource center.

Note:

If you would like to share a story about how you handled this issue with your parents, join the dialogue. Comment? Email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 

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