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AOTA’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week
Thursday November 29, 2012
Elin Schold Davis, OT

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The concern for the safety and independence of older drivers is greater now than at any time in U.S. history. According to national statistics, more than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, a trend expected to continue for the next 19 years. And by 2040, 1 in 5 Americans will be 70 or older. Dec. 3-7, AOTA’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, is the perfect occasion for occupational therapy programs to draw attention to this burgeoning issue.

AOTA partners with AAA, AARP and The Hartford to offer resources. This week was selected as a time when generations gather to prepare for holiday celebrations, which offers an opportunity for contemplation, planning and strengthened family support.

Solutions are tailored to person-centered goals with a dedication to the American Occupational Therapy Association’s motto: "Living life to its fullest." Consider the many ways your program addresses safety and independence. Highlight and expand your service repertoire, and tell others.

Aging in place falls short if transportation needs are not addressed. When a client lacks confidence or must accommodate for changed abilities such as one-sided weakness after a stroke, occupational therapy programs optimize the requisite skills for driving and ensure access to specialized driver rehabilitation services when indicated. We assess and educate clients about transportation for grocery shopping, social engagements and healthcare needs.

Each day of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week highlights a different element in formulating a plan:
• Monday: Identifying changes that can affect driving
• Tuesday Family conversations
• Wednesday: Screening and evaluations with an occupational therapist
• Thursday: Equipment that can empower drivers
• Friday: Taking changes in stride

Several resources can guide conversations with clients and concerned families. Make these resources available as handouts, or offer a public seminar.

Our evaluations identify areas of concern and offer a plan for intervention dedicated to help a driver remain on the road whenever possible. Many drivers may be unaware of the resources driver rehabilitation can offer. An individualized plan may include adaptive equipment, compensatory strategies or training. Managing and transporting mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and scooters, also can be daunting for clients and their families.

Isolation and diminished engagement are unfortunate consequences when clients and families lack awareness of the equipment and techniques available to enhance safe driving and community mobility. To find a specialist, search the database at aota.org/Older-Driver/Specialists.aspx.

Developed by AAA, AARP and AOTA, the CarFit program looks at individual vehicle fit. Frailty and fragility experienced with aging significantly increase risk for debilitating injury from a crash. Buckling up and sitting a safe 10 inches away from the airbag housed in the steering wheel are two of 12 areas of focus on the CarFit checklist. Learn more at Car-Fit.org.

Driving cessation is the unfortunate but necessary outcome for some drivers with medical conditions that impair vision, cognition or physical ability to the extent that they no longer can safely control and navigate a vehicle. The recommendation, based on data, to stop driving can be emotional and difficult, but essential for the safety of the individual and the community.

Occupational therapy, however, does not stop at the identification of an instrumental activities of daily living loss. Recognizing this is where intervention may begin. For example, a client may also be at risk when stepping up into a bus or using a taxi. The Beverly Foundation designed a "calculator" describing features of "dementia-friendly transportation." This can be found online at beverlyfoundation.org/resource-library.

I encourage OTs to seek out the resources developed by our partners and participate in Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. AOTA offers several avenues of support. Ask for ideas from your peers through my blog at otconnections.aota.org/blogs/elin/default.aspx.

For more information, visit aota.org/Older-Driver/Awareness.aspx online. If you have specific questions, please email driverhelp@aota.org.


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Thursday November 29, 2012
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