Elderly drivers a difficult topic for many families - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Elderly drivers a difficult topic for many families

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Many families deal with the difficult topic of elderly loved ones getting behind the wheel, as they question how old is too old to drive and decide when it's time to take away the keys.

"Elderly drivers and young drivers both pose a unique challenge to law enforcement," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Bill Miller.

Miller said elderly drivers are generally safer and less distracted than young drivers, but they experience other problems.

"It's just a known fact as we get older we lose that extra reactionary time that we need," Miller said.

Colin Bonfiglio is an occupational therapist who specializes in driving rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"I don't know if it's an age concern. Again, I think what we have to look at is the ability," Bonfiglio said.

Bonfiglio evaluates dozens of patients, about half of whom are elderly, assessing their ability to drive safely.

He says various medications, memory loss and even vision are factors.

"Physical skills, cognitive ability and visual skills. And then we're getting in the car to see how an individual puts all of those skills together to safely drive," Bonfiglio said.

Therapists also use something called a Dynavision, a device that tests patients' reaction time and attention by having them hit as many moving lights as they can in a minute.

"We want to see how quickly they can go, and we want to see their accuracy, too. Are they missing lights in certain areas?" Bonfiglio said.

But how do you know when it might be time to take the keys from mom or dad? Experts say the signs include more dents on the car or if they get lost in familiar places.

"A lot of times our elderly patients will make comments, 'I've been driving for many, many years, and I've never had an accident,' and that's often times the case. But this is not about past driving ability and safety. It's about their current ability and future safety," Bonfiglio said.

It's not an easy conversation, but it's one that could save heartache down the road.

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