With the increase in baby boomers, Occupational Therapists working in driver rehab are more important than ever before.
Today, there are more older adults behind the wheel than any other time in history. According to the CDC, in 2030 adults ages 65 and up will make up 20% of the U.S population, and most of them will be licensed drivers.
With increased age, comes increased risk of accidents. Older adults are more likely to have chronic medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, hypotension, neuropathy, macular degeneration, vertigo, and muscle weakness.
Many of these diseases require medications that may cause drowsiness, delirium, seizures, dizziness, changes in blood pressure, nausea, weakness, and the list goes on.
Other problems with aging may result in vision acuity or visual field changes. It’s often more difficult for older adults to drive at night and response time may be slower.
Aside from aging, losing the ability to drive can lead to depression, isolation, and may lead to poor health. Seniors who don’t drive may stop going regularly to their medical appointments and would be less likely to have social and community interaction.
They may feel like a burden asking for help, and may go for longer periods without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Driving is an essential factor within the culture we live, and plays a vital role for autonomy and emotional wellbeing.
What is a Driver Rehab Specialist?
Driver rehab specialists or DRS, are usually occupational Therapists with training or certification in Driver rehab. Although not required, most DRS are certified or working toward certification from the Association of Driver Educators for the Disabled (ADED).
A DRS evaluates and assesses individuals to see if they are safe and fit to drive. They may evaluate following:
- Acuity, visual field, sensitivity, figure ground, contrast, perception
- Vehicle orientation and management, Lane turning, scanning the environment.
- Appropriate pressure to touch, stereognosis, light touch, discrimination
- Detect environmental sounds internal and external (ex: Seatbelt reminder)
- Orientation, memory, language, executive functioning, sequencing, attention
They may also recommend or provide adaptive driving equipment.
After a DRS determines that an individual is fit to drive they can write a letter of recommendation to a physician.
If a DRS decides that an individual is not safe to drive they may recommend driver retirement or other means for community mobility.
How to become a driver rehab specialist?
Read my other post on how to become a Driver Rehab specialist and evaluate your first client.
Benefits of Driver retirement and community mobility
It’s important to understand the driver retirement isn’t the end of community mobility.
Sometimes a DRS may decide that an individual is unsafe to drive, and may recommend means of community mobility such as public transportation. This may include transportation by bus, train, subway, or other community transit. A driver rehab specialist may also refer these individuals to a social worker who may be able to provide additional resources.
It’s also important to consider benefits to driver cessation. This includes no more trips to the DMV! There are also financial benefits. Without a license you don’t have to pay for car maintenance, insurance, flat tires, gasoline, garage space, and registration fees.
Giving up driving is also is part of a green initiative. With less gas emissions on the road, that means it’s safer for the environment.
6 ways Physicians can help older drivers?
Today, it’s more important than ever to have a physician or PA evaluate and assess older adults to determine if they are safe to drive. Below are key tips how physicians may assess driver safety.
- Ask older adults about driving challenges and behaviors.
- Screen for medical problems or medications that may impair driver performance.
- Assess cognition, vision, and motor function.
- Refer patients to driver rehabilitation specialists.
- Discuss driving restrictions, alternate transportation methods or cessation.
- Follow up and request an approval letter from a driver rehab specialist.
If patients are unable or unsafe to drive, physicians must report to the state. However, they can also discuss alternatives such as public transportation or community options. It’s also important to follow up with these patients to discuss possible challenges from experiencing social isolation.
With an increased population of older drivers on the road, more and more people are looking for guidance from a driver rehab specialist. Unfortunately, these professionals are few and number.
If you or someone you know is looking for a driver rehab specialist visit aota.org to find a qualified professional in your area. If there is not a DRS in your area, sign up to start a zoom meeting or over the phone appointment.
David is the lead editor of OT Focus. He has been practicing as an Occupational Therapist since 2013. He specializes in acute care, hand therapy, and ergonomics.