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Is it Safe for Seniors to Drive when on Mild Medication?

by Elin Schold Davis, Elder Driving Expert
November 17, 2016

Question: My 75-year-old mother is on mild medication but is very alert and independent. Is it safe for her to continue driving?

Answer: In most cases, medications alone are not a reason to stop or return to driving. Some medications may support our best abilities to drive when taken consistently and as prescribed, for example the prescription that helps manage unwanted movements that result from Parkinson’s disease.  However, some new or changed prescriptions may take a little time to adjust to, so not driving for a temporary time interval you doctor suggests is wise. Some medications or medication combinations may cause symptoms of drowsiness or slowed responses which can affect alertness while driving.

So the answer is that it depends on how the medication affects your mother. Self-evaluation of how the medication affects cognition including alertness, sense of location, vision, physical strength and coordination is important prior to getting behind the wheel. A safe driver is open to assessing these prior to getting behind the wheel.  This informal self-assessment needs to happen every time she plans to drive. If the she is having an “off” day, let her know that getting in the passenger seat or calling a cab are options. Relying on a different form of transportation one day or for a few weeks while adjusting to a new medication does not mean it needs to happen forever.

Older adults who would like to continue driving need to be willing to discuss medications with their physicians and/or pharmacist and be honest in your self-assessment. An occupational therapist can assist in strategies to understand and monitor symptoms that may place older drivers at risk and developing your transportation plan. For more information about planning ahead for driving alternatives, visit www.aota.org.

Elin Schold Davis has coordinated the American Occupational Therapy Association's (AOTA) Older Driver Initiative since 2003. She is a registered/licensed occupational therapist (OTR/L) and a certified driving rehabilitation specialist (CDRS). Her experience in long term care and adult rehabilitation at The Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Minneapolis, Minnesota, led her to her position with The American Occupational Therapy Association as the Coordinator of the AOTA Older Driver Initiative.

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