If you drive, you probably don't give much thought to getting from here to there — unless you're filling up your gas tank, of course. It's something that's easy to take for granted. As you age, this will change. For an older person, driving is the difference between living and existing. Giving up the car is a senior's worst nightmare — just as it would be for anyone with a drivers license.
A column in automedia.com entitled, "Senior Drivers, Time to Give Up the Keys?," cites the following numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "The crash rate per mile increases slowly at age 65; then, at 85, it soars to a rate nine times higher than that for all drivers between 25 and 69. The only age with a worse crash rate per mile are 16-year olds."
To me there is an interesting correlation here. Driving accidents soar at the same age (85 and older) as incidences of memory impairment surface. The Altzhiemer's Association estimates that half of those over the age of 85 have some type of dementia.
To illustrate what this could mean for us at a local level, here is some demographic information about Erie County.
Between 2005 and 2010 the number of people age 80 to age 89 is projected to increase by 174. For those age 90 and older that age group also will grow by 209. (Source: Profiles & Projections of the 60 + Population in Erie County, Ohio; Scripps Gerontology Center, Miami University of Ohio). Half of them could be memory impaired drivers — provided their physical health allows them to still get behind the wheel.
If the driving ability of you, or someone you know, is deteriorating, here are a couple to things you should know. The American Medical Association recommends two tests that a family doctor can administer in an office to measure cognitive function. One is called the "Clock Drawing Test" and the other is called the "Trails B Test." They take about five minutes to do and will indicate whether or not the person's cognitive abilities are failing. For a more in-depth medical assessment, older adults can get what's called a "Geriatric Assessment." Cleveland's University Hospitals Case Medical Center Foley Elder Health Center (216-844-6300) offers the service, and it's covered by Medicare insurance.
There is no simple answer, but one thing is certain.
It's an issue worthy of an efficient and effective means of intervention — for everyone's sake.