Free Online Course Helps MDs Evaluate Older Drivers’ Skills
The American Medical Association (AMA) has launched a free Web-based course physicians can use to assess how capable their older patients are of driving. The AMA — which created the course, “Medical Fitness to Drive: Is your Patient at Risk?,” with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — encourages physicians to make driver safety a routine part of their services for older patients.
As Rene Letourneau reports in Healthcare Finance News, the online course provides assessment tools, case studies, and other resources to help physicians to better evaluate and counsel older drivers among their patients.
She quotes AMA’s President Peter W. Carmel, M.D.:
This AMA-developed tool will better help physicians evaluate the ability of their older patients to operate motor vehicles safely, initiate referrals and medical treatment to improve function when possible and facilitate what can be a difficult conversation with patients and caregivers about driving safety.
According to the AMA, older drivers have a higher risk of traffic fatalities for two reasons: Drivers 75 and older are involved in “significantly more crashes” than middle-aged drivers; and older drivers are more fragile than younger ones and more likely to suffer a fatal injury in a crash. “Per mile driven,” AMA states, “the fatality rate for drivers 85 years and older is nine times higher than the rate for drivers 25 to 69 years old.”
One reason for the higher accident rate among older drivers is impaired vision, AMA writes. Visual acuity and field vision, which are important for safe driving, tend to decline with age and with an increase in diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and stroke. Older drivers commonly experience glare, impaired contrast sensitivity, and an increase in the time it takes to adjust to changes in lightness and darkness.
Cognition problems also cause crashes among older drivers, AMA writes. Certain medical conditions such as dementia, along with medications that are prescribed to older patients, have a large impact on high-level cognitive skills necessary for safe driving, such as memory, visual processing, attention, and executive skills, according to AMA.
In addition, a decline in motor abilities in older people also has an impact on driving safety. Muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, and proprioception are needed to operate vehicles safely. Conditions such as arthritis can adversely affect an older person’s ability to drive safely and comfortably. “As a result, older drivers are more likely to experience crashes at intersections, especially when a left-hand turn is involved,” AMA states.
Letourneau writes that 87% of the physicians who tried out the course in a pilot study said it gave them specific techniques or tools. The online course is available for continuing educational credits for physicians and other healthcare professionals. The course is also available on a CD. And for non-physicians, any older person can take a free online self-evaluation test at AAA of his or her driving skills.
Image by Alaska Highway Safety Office, used under Fair Use: Reporting.