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When is it time to hang up the car keys?

  • 2 min to read
When is it time to hang up the car keys?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part I of a 2-part series on addressing the issue of seniors with deteriorating driving skills. It's part of our ongoing series titled Gray Matters.

MANSFIELD -- One day Reed Richmond was driving through downtown Mansfield.

As he drove, he saw road construction and detour signs between where his mother lived and where his mother's ophthalmologist works.

Without the road work creating detours, it was a straight shot on Park Avenue West from his mother Elizabeth's home in Ashland. Richmond said he realized his mother, who now suffers from late-stage Alzheimer's Disease, would struggle with the one-way streets and could have trouble finding her way back to the main road.

"That was a pivotal moment for me," he remembered. "It struck me as one of those things where if she has memory loss issues, perhaps she shouldn't be driving."

Richmond said when he spoke with his mother about retiring from the driver's seat, she agreed.

"There were a number of reasons for her to stop driving, I think," he recalled. "One was that she was aware of the memory issues. Another is that the place where she used to take her car had closed and she wasn't used to having to fill up the car with gas herself. She also didn't use the car much. She walked to get groceries, she really only ever drove to church on Sunday."

As people age, so do their senses. Aging brings about hearing loss, vision loss and often slows coordination -- things used with each mile driven.

The deterioration of those skills and senses can result in poor driving.

Richmond, who teaches, an AARP Senior Driver Safety Refresher Course and and a health educator through the Richland County Health Department said he is all too familiar with the signs of those who shouldn't be behind a wheel.

"In that class, one of the last things we talk about is the future of driving," he said. "We talk about how seniors who are looking down the road -- pun intended -- of driving, and what types of changes can affect driving."

According to the National Institute on Aging, those signs can vary from incompetent driving, drastically reduced peripheral vision, even if eyesight is 20/20 with corrective lenses, getting lost frequently even on familiar roads, and erratic driving such as abrupt lane changes or drifting, braking or acceleration.

"Your hearing, vision, reaction all fade as you get older, but at what point do you give up driving?" Richmond posed.

Family doctors can make a suggestion, he said. But the license bureau, law enforcement (outside of an accident or ticket) will not force anyone to stop driving.

"It all comes down to the individual family," Richmond said. "Are they having trouble making turns, driving too fast or too slow depending on driving conditions? One of things you can look for as a family are scrapes or dents on the car or the mailbox."

Richmond added that age should not be a factor in determining who should and shouldn't be driving.

"We had a 92-year-old woman (in the AARP course) and she was fully cognizant, very aware," he said. "There were others younger than that who I thought should consider retirement (from driving). You can't pin it on age."

Still, Pam Meyers, program director at the Northwest Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association in Maumee, said statistics show more accidents occur when people grow older.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 204 Ohio drivers, age 65 or older, were involved in fatal traffic-related accidents in 2016 (the latest data available).

"Statistically, the older we get the more of a risk for a car accident there is," she said. "Driving issues exist for all of us. It's really up to the families looking at what is happening with the driving and taking a look at whether or not a person should be on the road again."

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.