08/11/2017

For older adults who grew up with the automobile, continuing to drive is vital to their independence. However, medical conditions and age related changes may impact their safety and comfort to drive. Occupational therapists, especially those with specialized education and training in Driving Rehabilitation, are ideal to evaluate an older adult’s driving abilities and help find a solution. They can review their fitness to drive and facilitate a return to driving, if possible, or determine other methods of community mobility.

A comprehensive driving evaluation by a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS) can determine whether you have the necessary skills and abilities to drive without undue risk to yourself or others.  With a DRS, the driving evaluation generally take two to three hours. The evaluation should consist of a clinical evaluation, which includes an evaluation of cognitive, visual and physical abilities and an on-the-road test.

When concerned about driving, for yourself or a loved one, the first step is a medical checkup. Have a vision check making sure your glasses prescription is up to date and conditions such as cataracts or glaucoma are monitored.  Check in with your physician about medications, feelings of depression or fatigue, and ask specifically how your medical conditions might challenge your abilities to safely operate “heavy machinery” which remember- includes a car!  If experiencing physical changes such as amputation, paralysis or joint limiting arthritic changes, complete your rehabilitation program and ask your therapist to help you determine when you are ready to explore the adaptive equipment and vehicle modification opportunities a driving rehabilitation specialist can offer.  If you are looking for an individualized assessment of both strengths and limitations with the focus on determining what options are available to stay on the road, the comprehensive driving evaluation is the service to request.

Some of the reasons for getting a formal and comprehensive driving evaluation include:

  • If there is a change in your vision or physical abilities that, you must admit, now seems to be affecting how you manage in your car or doing other daily tasks.  The driving evaluation moves the question from worry to facts!  With the evaluation results, you can better understand how and why these changes affect your driving and discover new strategies or tips you can use to keep your driving skills sharp.
  • You have one or more medical conditions or physical limitations that may lead to a loss of range of motion, flexibility or strength in your arms or legs. With the evaluation, the DRS may provide you with a plan of rehabilitation and/or assistive equipment, if appropriate.  And, this plan may help you begin to think about your transportation future, particularly valuable for drivers who desire more control as they plan ahead for the changes that may come with progressive conditions.
  • If you have been told you should stop or limit your driving, but you disagree – seeking out a professional opinion from a driving rehabilitation specialist, who is an expert in evaluating fitness to drive, will give you an objective opinion from an expert.  . By going through a thorough evaluation process, you will have a complete and factual picture of your driving skills and abilities that includes the exploring any option for improvement.  Then, if faced with the recommendation to cease driving, you understand that the recommendation to stop driving was the only safe and responsible option. 
  • If a recent medical condition or illness has affected any of your normal daily living tasks, you should consider a comprehensive driving evaluation, as driving is the most complex of daily living tasks and puts you and others at risk when there is a mistake or error.  Be in the know and check it out!
  • If you have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but are in the early stages, you may not need to stop driving immediately. A comprehensive driving evaluation can offer you more control by providing facts.  Because your occupational therapist understands medically related changes such as dementia, your therapist will work with you to determine whether you have the competence to continue to drive for now and explore strategies prioritizing safety on the road.  And, your therapist will begin the hard conversation early. With time to look ahead (while still driving) you can take an active role in the exploration of transportation options that also offer the necessary support.  By planning ahead you can to stay active in your community by accessing other ways to travel in the future.

There may be several community resources available to help you find an appropriate professional for a driving evaluation.

  • Your local hospital can be a good source to finding resources such as an Occupational therapy/ driver rehabilitation specialist.
  • There are aging programs sponsored by your local county or city office.
  • The Veterans Administration can assist with resources.
  • Your state’s bureau or department of motor vehicles or motor vehicle administration may have special programs and special licensing options.
  • You can access two national databases of experts in driving rehabilitation: