The recent quarantine orders for the Covid-19 pandemic have cautioned our seniors not to leave their homes for any reason. In compliance, many are getting their necessities delivered to their homes rather than risk a drive to the store. When the world opens up again, you and I will get back behind the wheel and return to business as usual. But what about our elderly parents who haven't driven in several weeks?
A recent study by the UK Office of National Statistics found that elderly drivers who had gone without driving for an extended period of time were at an elevated risk of an auto accident.
Why does this happen, and what does this mean for your aging parent who may have been confined to the home for several weeks during the Covid-19 shutdown? Here are some contributing risk factors:
Lack of Practice
Many of the seniors I counsel on driving retirement often tell me that they seldom drive, and are thus minimizing their risk of an accident. Wrong! It is important to keep the brain and body in sync with the car! Buckling the seatbelt, operating the controls, the feel of the gas and brake pedals, all become ingrained over the course of time through muscle memory. When muscle memory wanes from lack of use, it’s like adapting to a new vehicle all over again, which is discombobulating for the elderly driver—thus elevating the risk of an accident!
Lack of Social and Intellectual Stimulation
Seniors who have been deprived of mental stimulation for an extended period of time often exhibit signs of decreased cognition. Engaging with others, having lively conversations, playing games of skill, etc., are all essential for keeping the mind focused and alert—two key factors necessary for safe driving.
Lack of Physical Exercise
Being sedentary often goes hand in hand with being isolated. Elders who have been accustomed to playing pickle ball at the senior center, mall walking with friends, grocery shopping, and other physical activities may now have difficulty returning safely to those pursuits due to muscle atrophy, loss of balance, and loss of coordination—all which have an impact on driver safety.
Mitigating the Impact
While the world is closed for business, help your parent to stay mentally and physically prepared for a return to the normal and successful life he enjoyed before the shutdown with a few of these following tips:
Encourage your parent to be as active as is safely possible while holed up alone at home.
Check out YouTube for some safe chair exercise routines for seniors and email the link to them for easy access.
If weather and physical ability permit, encourage a walk around the yard or neighborhood.
Check in every day and encourage your parent to dial up old friends to reconnect with.
Look online for some games you can play together on these virtual meeting forums.
Arrange a Netflix Party and watch some movies and TV shows together.
Regular practice, mental acuity, and physical fitness all play a role a senior's safe driving abilities. If your parent was already demonstrating questionable driving skills due to the cognitive and physical effects of aging before the Covid-19 quarantine order, he may now be at an even greater risk of a future accident in the aftermath of the shutdown as he attempts to return to his former routine.
Taking these steps will not ensure a successful transition back into the driver's seat, but staying fit and healthy throughout the shutdown period will give your parent a fighting chance to retain his independence.