To Drive or Not to Drive
Many people living with Parkinson’s disease have asked the question, when do you make the difficult decision to quit driving? I’ve been driving legally since the age of 15, earlier if you count all the times I sat on my dad’s lap and steered the family Buick into the driveway. Let’s face it, driving is a privilege to most but to some it is more of a God-given right, a ritual passage into adulthood and independence or freedom. It beats riding the bus. Because PD is a chronic and progressive disease, eventually the previous question comes up sooner or later. The symptoms of PD can eventually impair our physical abilities and cognitive functions specifically the decision making process endangering ourselves or others.
The reality of science
The fact of the matter is as we age our nerve tracts in the brain begin to shrivel and the loss of neurons can occur. Healthy neurons become targets for oxidation. This typically occurs after age 65 and is accelerated with people with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. The result:
- Impaired motor function
- Diminished depth perception
- Slowed decision making
- Reduced responsiveness
- Other dysfunctions
As far as I know, there is no escaping reality. We all age! Perhaps at different rates and there is still no known cure for Parkinson’s. So what can be done?
Maintaining one’s health as we get older is one key element in delaying the aging process. Defy reality by:
- Exercising and keeping your body healthy
- Eating foods that are rich in anti-oxidants
- Challenge your mind through games (crosswords, trivia, etc.)
- Participate in a “Defensive Driver Course for Seniors”
I know it is a difficult decision to surrender your driver’s license and many states ask the question: “Have you ever been diagnosed with a condition that would otherwise impair your ability to operate a motor vehicle?” How many of us could or would answer that honestly? Well, does that mean when I am on meds or off? Depends on the traffic or time of day. Right? There are no right or wrong answers. It is an important question appropriately discussed with family and a care partner. A time of self-evaluation or perhaps one better discussed with your neurologist or an occupational therapist. My OT asked me point blank, “How’s your driving?” Of course I said, “Fine!” I mean I haven’t had any accidents or tickets. In fact, I haven’t been pulled over in years but that doesn’t mean my driving is perfect. It does however indicate that I should be extra cautious and more aware when I do drive. I avoid peak traffic hours and major cities. I try not to drive at night and I always wear proper eye protection to avoid glare from the sun. Check with your local elder affairs or sheriff’s department for the aforementioned driver defensive courses. Often they are free and can be a lot of fun. Also, occupational therapists can help. These are just some tips that can help you maintain your driving privilege and remain independent for years to come. So stay safe and happy motoring!