By Karl Hoffman
The ability to drive affords us many luxuries and freedoms. For some, driving an automobile may represent a welcome convenience; for others, it may be a necessary part of their daily routine. Public transportation is often lacking in many communities, and older adults display a strong preference for making trips in personal vehicles versus buses, cabs, or trains. Driving is a privilege that few of us could imagine living without. For older drivers, it can be the defining point between the “independent” and the “dependent”. It is often one of the determining factors in whether an older adult can live independently at home, or make a necessary transition to an assisted living facility or other retirement community.
However, in addition to the privileges it provides, for many older adults driving also represents one of the most dangerous tasks in which they engage. Two factors contribute to this risk. First, although the vast majority of seniors are safe and competent drivers, the likelihood of being involved in a collision may be elevated for some older adults due to a change in ability as a result of illness, disease, or the natural aging process. Second, seniors are more likely to sustain serious injuries in a collision due to their decreased physiologic reserve. The impact that may result in the bruising of a younger adult may result in bone fractures in an older, osteoporotic adult. Consequently, driving can represent a double-edged sword for the older driver. It is a skill that can reap great rewards, but when performed unsafely can result in catastrophic harm. Therefore, it is critical that we provide a means to objectively evaluate and monitor the driving safety of an older adult.
An evaluation with a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) is generally the most effective and objective means for determining the driving safety of an older adult. The CDRS is usually an Occupational Therapist who has received substantial additional training in how aging and disability can affect driving skills, as well as the use of adapted driving techniques and vehicle modifications that can compensate for an individual’s change of abilities. A comprehensive driving assessment usually includes a clinical assessment of the physical, cognitive, and visual/perceptual skills utilized in driving, followed by an in-car session (also known as “road test”) to evaluate the application of those skills in a real world driving environment. Drivers with good skills can be recognized and encouraged to continue driving. Drivers who present with unsatisfactory skills or unsafe driving behaviors can be recommended for driver rehabilitation. For those whose skills are significantly impaired and cannot be remediated, driving retirement may be the best option to ensure their safety and the safety of others on the road.
The goal of the CDRS is to keep drivers safely on the road for as long as possible. For drivers whose abilities may be compromised, the goal is to identify those at risk, and take steps to intervene before an accident happens. If we wait for an accident to happen before evaluating a driver, we have waited too long.
To schedule a driving evaluation for you or a loved one, call the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health at 757-220-4751; www.excellenceinaging.org. Tests are conducted in both Williamsburg and Hampton.
Karl Hoffman OTR/L, CDRS, CDI is the Director of Driver Rehabilitation Services at the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Karl started his Occupational Therapy career at the Riverside Rehabilitation Institute 1995 as a staff therapist. He later served as Clinical Services Manager, and also operated the Adaptive Driver Training Program at the Shoreview Outpatient Center. Karl left Riverside in 2006 to enter into private practice, and established Driver Rehabilitation of Hampton Roads, Inc. In 2011, Karl joined the Center for Excellence in Aging and Geriatric Health to create Driver Rehabilitation of Hampton Roads – a service of CEAGH.
Karl is dually licensed as an Occupational Therapist and a Commercial Driving Instructor. He has been credentialed as a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) by the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) since 1997.