The ability to drive to go to work, see friends and run errands is a level of independence many take for granted until it’s time to consider not getting behind the wheel due to age or health reasons.
Two recent accidents in Medina County involving drivers older than 70 are seen as teaching moments by those who work with the elderly.
Knowing when to stop driving or when to talk to an elderly relative about giving up the keys can be difficult, said Laura Toth, director for the Office for Older Adults.
“The thing that we look for here, which is what we tell caregivers to look for with seniors, is this: Is mom or dad getting lost? Do they know the directions or are they calling you saying, ‘Where’s the pharmacy?’ or ‘Where’s the bank?’ or something like that,” Toth said.
“Another thing we look for is little dents on the car or marks on the garage where maybe they are bumping things because they are not able to see or to judge distance.”
Toth said that some people will start self-restricting when it comes to driving by doing things like only driving during the day.
The Ohio Department of Aging said that other ways for seniors to stay safe while driving include not driving too slow because it can be as unsafe as speeding, taking defensive driving courses and asking their doctor if any of their medications can affect their driving ability.
As people age, more factors can play a part in an individual’s inability to drive, including decreases in vision and hearing, slower reactions times on certain medications, a fear of driving in traffic and poor weather conditions.
However, when the time comes, it still is important to have the tough conversation with older relatives about no longer driving for safety purposes.
“I think it’s so important to have that conversation about keeping the roads safe,” Toth said. “It’s not just about you and getting around. It’s about the other people that might be on the road.”
In recent weeks, two crashes in Medina County resulted in property damage and a fatality when older drivers confused gas pedals with brakes.
Susan Krajzel, of Brunswick, died Thursday from injuries she received after she was pinned under a vehicle. Police said Friday that an elderly Brunswick woman was driving in the parking lot when she mistook the gas pedal for the brake as she tried to park and ran into the 47-year-old woman.
It was the second similar collision to occur in less than two weeks.
On April 3, a 79-year-old North Royalton woman crashed her car into the CVS Pharmacy on West 130th Street in Hinckley Township.
Marion Mueller was driving a red 2018 Toyota Corolla when she confused the brake and gas pedals, according to police, and jumped the curb and slammed into the side wall of the building. No one was injured.
Brunswick police said Friday that they still are investigating the most recent crash.
Older relatives might not be open-minded when it comes to a conversation about them giving up their driving privileges. Having this conversation can be difficult, but there is another way to approach the situation, said Brunswick police Chief Brian Ohlin.
“If a family member is concerned about an elderly person’s driving ability and they have observed something … the family member can come in to the police station and ask to fill out a request for driver retest,” Ohlin said.
With the help of an officer, family members can fill out a form stating why they think the driver needs to be retested, whether it’s because of a sight issue, medication or another factor.
Toth said elderly non-drivers have many options to stay mobile, so the loss of driving privileges won’t lead to the loss of independence.
“We, at the Office for Older Adults, offer subsidized transportation for many common things, the grocery store, the bank, to get to the doctor’s,” Toth said.
For $2, seniors can use the subsidized transportation to go elsewhere.
“Also, in Brunswick, Medina and Wadsworth there are loop services … and that’s absolutely free to anyone over the age of 60. You just have to register with our office,” Toth said.
For more information or to register for transportation services, call the Office for Older Adults at (330) 723-9514 or visit www.mcooa.org and click on Transportation.
“I just think that people need to stay healthy, keep an open mind, have a conversation with your doctor, make sure you get your eyes checked every year. Just really the kinds of things any adult should do to keep themselves safe,” Toth said.