Fairly or not, senior drivers have come under closer scrutiny during the past few months. News stories about seniors in vehicle accidents has have caused many to wonder what we might do if  faced with a decision about when and how our senior loved ones should give up the keys.

Fairly or not, senior drivers have come under closer scrutiny during the past few months. News stories about seniors in vehicle accidents has have caused many of us to wonder what we might do if faced with a decision about when and how our senior loved ones should give up the keys.

Driving is an important component of independence, but when safety becomes a concern, careful evaluation is necessary. Family, friends, and seniors themselves should ask these questions:

- Is the driver confident in his/her driving skills?

- Are there physical difficulties that impair driving ability, such as decreased vision, hand-eye coordination, strength, or reaction time?

- Is the driver easily distracted?

- Does the driver have difficulty parking, gotten lost, or driven at inappropriate speeds?

- Are there unexplained dents or scratches on the driver’s vehicle?

- Have there been recent multiple accidents?

Depending on the answers to these questions, it may be time for the senior driver to give up the keys. To help with this difficult decision, medical professionals – including occupational therapists, primary care physicians/geriatricians, and social workers – may be of assistance.

Occupational therapists can often assess a driver’s mobility, vision and brake reaction time. A driver’s primary care physician often has a long-standing relationship with the patient, and may be the best person to address the issue in a non-judgmental way.

A geriatrics consult with a geriatrician can provide the primary physician with an improved understanding of memory deficits, cognitive ability and medication side effects, which enables primary physicians to provide recommendations and insight regarding driving. Lastly, a social worker can evaluate the role of driving in the individual’s life and review the findings of the physician and physical therapist to assist help family members in making make a decision.

Social workers can also provide educational materials on driving, arrange transportation alternatives and provide support to family members through the difficult time.

Resources available include:

- DriveWise is a comprehensive community program from at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that performs objective evaluations of driving safety for people of all ages who have experienced neurological, psychological and physical impairments. Details regarding this program can be found at www.bidmc.org.

- The geriatrics program at Milton Hospital provides geriatric consultation in the outpatient setting, including medication review and cognitive assessment. Dr. Min Song, a Harvard-trained, board-certified geriatrician, is currently seeing new patients for consultation and primary care. Call 617-696-7600 to make an appointment.

- The American Medical Association’s Web site, www.asma-assn.org, includes a self assessment, tips for safe driving, numerous ideas on how to accomplish everyday activities without a car, information for family members and caregivers on how to help a loved one and general recommendations for staying fit in later years.

It is extremely important not to make emotional and rash decisions. Instead, try to keep the safety, pride and independence of your loved one a priority. The most important thing is to be proactive. If you question your driving abilities or the abilities of a family member, friend or neighbor, do something.

Dr. Virginia Cummings is the director of the geriatrics program at Milton Hospital.