When is it time for the elderly to stop driving?

The 8th. Paulista Congress of Geriatrics and Gerontology ( GERP ), held in late September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, raised an important question: When is it time for an elderly person stop driving?  The issue was discussed in the context of a clinical case of an 80 year old driver.  The roundtable discussion included coordinator Renato Moraes Alves Fabri, doctors Carlos André Uehara and Mark Anthony Pirithous  and Maria Helena de Almeida Morgagni , occupational therapist, all of Sao Paulo.

They analysed the case of an 80 years old who drove to do the family grocery shopping, and take care of his grandson  by picking him from school and driving him home. The man was active and productive, and doing these tasks gave him great pleasure.

However,  one day, the man had an episode of dizziness and malaise, with a brief memory lapse.  Would this be the time for him to stop driving, thus avoiding endangering himself and others? The group noted that the act of driving, especially for men, is very important. It is a way for elders to maintain their autonomy and independence. Therefore, being told to stop driving would certainly have a strong psychological impact on the life of an elderly person like this man.

“You have to look at each case individually and very carefully . You can’t say that there is a deadline for the person to stop driving," said Fabri . One must take into account the physical, visual and cognitive ability of each driver in order to reach a final determination. The doctors concluded that because this man’s lapses of memory have been repeated, they would recommend that he stop driving. Other factors, however, should be taken into account, such as  “If he stops will he get depressed?” 

At the end of the debate, experts concluded that in presenting any medical condition,  each elderly driver should be assessed very carefully, in terms of  the biological, psychological and social issues. "You have to assess each individual, taking into account  his vision, hearing, cognition, motor function, alcohol use, drug use, and systemic diseases he may have, among many other aspects,”  added Fabri. He noted that studies outside Brazil show that the elderly are more likely to be safe drivers who obey the laws, are cautious and have self awareness. The subject is up for discussion and can only be resolved on a  case by case basis.