Raise your hand if you are itching to return to your normal routines, get back to your familiar activities or get in the car and hit the open roads. Well, guess who else is itching to get out there……our older drivers, maybe even more so than the rest of us.
This past year took a toll on our older loved ones. They were more vulnerable to get COVID, they were under much more stringent lockdowns (in some cases, they literally couldn’t leave their rooms), they were more secluded from family and friends, more isolated, and more depressed.
Before COVID, just going to the grocery store, breakfast with the guys, playing mahjong with the ladies, or picking up a prescription was their big outing. They may have only ventured out once or twice a week, but those interactions were everything to them. While for many of us, lockdowns were a break in our hectic lives and the opportunity to go at a slower pace. For older people it was extraordinarily hard to go from those few interactions to complete isolation.
So, what is so wrong if our older loved ones get back out on the roads like the rest of us?
5 things to keep in mind before older drivers should hit the roads:
1. How well were they driving before COVID?
If you think they weren't driving safely before, what makes you think they are any better now? Hint: They are not. In fact, chances are they are far worse. Most haven’t driven in a year. If you have ever come home from a long vacation after not driving it feels a little weird at first, try not driving for an entire year. Driving is also a practiced skill, teenagers for example must log so many hours behind the wheel before getting their license.
2. How physically active were they during lockdowns?
Driving takes strength, mobility, and flexibility. Driving takes quick response times and quick actions. Driving requires you to look over your shoulder when pulling out of a parking spot, turning the steering wheel sharply or breaking quickly. Being physically fit goes beyond the act of driving as well. Getting in and out of and walking to and from the car also requires mobility. Lack of exercise results in a loss of muscle mass, something that is greatly needed for older people to avoid falls and broken bones.
3. Were they cognitively impaired or heading in that direction before the pandemic?
Unfortunately, chances are they have declined even further in this last year. Do you notice any cognitive issues currently that they didn’t have pre-COVID? This was a very, very lonely year for a lot them. How interactive and social were they with other people during this last year? Isolation, depression, lack of human contact, especially from family members, only exacerbates cognitive issues and mental health. In general, depression and isolation can be a slippery slope that can lead to illnesses and early deaths in our older population.
4. How many routine doctor visits did they miss?
Are they long overdue for their normal checkups, such as vision and hearing? How about their medications, are they still on the correct doses, too much, too little? Have they been put on anything new during this time that would hinder their driving abilities, such as anti-depressants or sleep aids? Were there any elective surgeries that were put on hold, such as cataract surgery or hip replacement that still need to be addressed?