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How do you know if your ill or older loved one can safely drive?

The question of whether to an aging loved one or family member with a serious medical condition is still able to drive safely can be a gnawing one. Even here in the Northeast, driving is indispensible in most people’s daily lives, and it often represents a sense of self-sufficiency that’s hard to give up. Yet it’s rarely obvious that someone’s driving ability has deteriorated to a dangerous degree, and it’s awkward even to discuss the subject.

Meanwhile, vision impairments, cognitive deterioration, strokes, Parkinson’s disease and even simple physical weakness are among a host of medical issues could be putting your loved one -- and everyone else on the road -- at serious risk for a motor vehicle accident.

An interesting new program at Loyola University Health System that could help solve this problem. They have developed a rigorous clinical evaluation of patients’ driving abilities and a driver rehabilitation program that could help them continue driving safely for longer.

When the evaluation is ordered by a doctor, a clinician spends about an hour and a half taking the patient’s medical history and performing a series of tests to analyze the person’s cognition, vision, perceptual skills, motor function, reaction time and general physical ability. The patient may be rated as completely fit to drive, or their impairments may be significant enough that they should not be driving at all. They may also be asked to participate in a behind-the -wheel assessment for more information.

In between those who are unquestionably safe to drive and those who shouldn’t be allowed to, however, there are many who could continue to drive safely with rehabilitation and adaptive equipment. If it’s possible to install equipment that would make driving easier and safer for the patient, that is recommended. If vision care or occupational therapy would be beneficial, that can also be arranged.

Once the doctor receives the report, the idea is to share it with both the patient and appropriate family members in a sensitive way. That allows everyone to fully understand the risks if the person continues to drive as usual and to discuss options for them to keep their freedom while minimizing the risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Similar programs are likely to spring up around the country soon, especially as it is covered by Medicare and most insurance programs. This could be an important step toward safer roads for everyone.

Source: Claims Journal, “How to Determine Whether a Patient is Safe to Drive,” Oct. 11, 2013

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