Clinicians often wait for obvious "red flags" before talking to elderly patients about giving up driving — delays that may be too long and allow dangerous drivers to stay on the road, according to a new study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
"These conversations often don't happen until clinicians see a 'red flag' which could mean an accident or some physical problem that makes driving more difficult for the elderly," said Marian Betz, M.D., who led the study. "But what's interesting is that most elderly drivers we spoke with said they were open to having earlier discussions."
The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, involved focus groups and interviews with 33 drivers over age 65 and eight healthcare providers including doctors, nurses, and physician assistants.
The study found clinicians were often the first to raise the subject of elderly drivers handing over their car keys, but tended to wait for "red flags" before raising the topic.
"Driving is linked to independence and asking for someone's keys is very emotional," said Dr. Betz. "Studies have shown that most people outlive their ability to drive safely by more than six years."
Betz said healthcare providers should start conversations with elderly drivers earlier, perhaps at age 65 when Medicare benefits kick in. That way, drivers can be thinking about it years before having to make the decision.
"A primary theme that emerged from this study was the overall importance of improved communication about driving safety," the researchers said. "Both clinicians and drivers supported the idea of regular questioning about driving as a way to make it an easier topic, as patients might be more receptive if they heard it once before."
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