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Driving Issues with Elders? Gentle Discussion Tips

December 20, 2010

CONCORD, N.H. - It's the holiday season, and for many Granite Staters it's the only time all year that the entire family is under one roof. This also makes it a prime time to assess an older family member's driving skills, and to judge whether it could be time to hang up the car keys. It's a touchy yet important subject, says Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist with The Hartford. Her group worked in conjunction with AARP and the MIT Agelab on a study about the issue.

"We recommend that family members get in the car, if they're concerned about either a friend or a relative. And what they do is look for patterns of warning signs; not just whether they're happening, but whether there's an increase in frequency and severity of those warning signs."

The warning signs range from minor to serious, and can include a decrease in confidence while driving, trouble navigating turns or, of course, failure to stop at stop signs or signals, to name a few.

For a list of the red flags, as well as tips on how to broach the subject with elders, a free online course called "We Need to Talk" is available at

Lisa D'Ambrosio, a research scientist with the MIT AgeLab, says a survey of adults showed that one in ten is concerned about an older family member's ability to drive safely, but more than 30 percent have not addressed the issue, many of for fear of a negative reaction.

"We've found that most people who have been spoken to about their driving said that they actually listened to and followed their families' suggestions. So, I would say take courage, do your homework, and go ahead and engage in that conversation."

AARP New Hampshire offers driver safety courses for people over 50, that address aging drivers' normal changes in vision, hearing and reaction time, with an emphasis on safety strategies. More information is at

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH