PIQUA — When we think of impaired driving, we often expect to see individuals who are knowingly driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Not many anticipate to see their sweet 82-year-old grandma to come home with a citation for impaired driving.
It is not that grandma has “gone wild,” but she was driving after having her recommended dose of Lasix, which causes extreme drowsiness, and caused her to swerve into a pole while on her way to Kroger. Although a fictitious scenario, driving carelessly under the influence of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is becoming all too common in senior citizens.
A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety resulted in 78 percent of people aged 55 or older take medications that could impair driving, but only 28 percent had any awareness that the drugs that are meant to help them are impacting their ability to drive. Although prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs are labeled with side effects and warnings, they are commonly ignored.
Piqua Police Chief Bruce Jamison said most of the recertifications the department administer are for senior citizens. Recertifications allows dialogue with police and the victim’s doctor to determine the limits the victim has for driving. Doctors also have the ability to contact the DMV if concerned about a person’s ability to drive.
“Unfortunately, we found out (victim is impaired by prescription drugs) when there is a crash,” Jamison said. “As part of investigations, (police) are assessing drivers…it’s a little more difficult to recognize some of the drug impairments (in comparison) to the alcohol impairments.”
Officers are able to detect alcohol impairment based on the odor on a person’s breath or eye stagnis in eyes, but under prescription drug use, it’s not as easy to determine.
“There’s physical characteristics that clearly show the level of impairment,” Jamison said. “We don’t have that type of science to help the officer out when making the assessment with impaired prescription drug abuse. We don’t have that type of guidance from the courts, so that’s what makes it more difficult to enforce, but we do enforce it.”
Prescription drug use while driving can affect anyone at any age, but makes it worse for senior citizens. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention states the risk of being killed or injured in a motor vehicle crash increases as you age, with an average of 586 older adults injured in every day crashes.
Jamison believes senior citizens that should not be driving are out on the streets due to a reality that is simply not easy to face.
“(Senior citizens) worry about losing their independence,” Jamison said. “Just the thought of not being able to use their car to go to the grocery store is a huge emotional deal…a level of denial even when their doctor tells them.”
What can be done? Getting information on the medication that senior citizens are on and having an open dialogue about what happens as people age and how that can impair their ability to drive.
“As much as everyone wants to hang onto their independence, I’ve yet to meet someone that has said it doesn’t matter if they hurt other people,” Jamison said. “Making sure (senior citizens) know as they age and take medication that they are not just endangering themselves, but other people.”
Although this is a concern to many senior citizens, it does not mean they should not be out on the streets. Some senior citizens are still highly capable of driving because of good health, but only becomes a concern with them if under prescription or over-the-counter drug use.
“There’s not a given age that is too old to drive,” Jamison said. “It’s very important people understand…it has to be based on their particular abilities, not their age.”
Reach Amy Barger at (937) 451-3340.