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CAA seminar helps seniors assess skills

It's that proud look we remember years later when we start to realize our parents, now approaching their 70s or 80s, are beginning to lose the very skills they once taught us.

It’s one of the most vivid memories of our teenage years: coming out of the licensing office waving that piece of paper in our parents’ faces, grinning from ear-to-ear. We can finally drive.

Perhaps the biggest reward was the look we received from them, full of pride, for being the ones to teach us that all-important skill.

It’s that proud look we remember years later when we start to realize our parents, now approaching their 70s or 80s, are beginning to lose the very skills they once taught us.

Mark Toljagic couldn’t have been more correct when he wrote in last week’s story, “Time to hang up the keys?” that, for many aging Canadians living in small communities and rural areas, a car represents a lifeline and one of the last vestiges of independent living.

For children of seniors, one of the hardest things to tell the person who once took care of them is that it’s maybe time to consider giving up that freedom. For the senior, it’s the unpleasant idea of having someone else tell them what they can or cannot do.

As one senior driver said in Toljagic’s article, “I’d like to give up my licence myself – to have that control, rather than be forced …”

CAA believes it’s important to give senior motorists access to the resources they need to come to that decision – preferably of their own volition, with the help of family.

In 2001, we began a program called Shifting Gears, which offers free seminars featuring lectures by senior motoring experts, licensed mechanics, occupational therapists and pharmacists.

Shifting Gears also provides information on the latest rules of the road and technologies, Ministry of Transportation requirements for those aged 80 and over, testing requirements, the effects of aging and medication on driving ability, alternative transportation options, community resources, ways for family members to approach someone about giving up their keys, an interactive assessment tool called Roadwise Review and CAA driver training.

Several seniors who have completed our driver training courses and attended our seminars are success stories. However, the reality is that, sometimes, we have to make that painful decision or know someone who does.

Our website (see below) offers tips for families of older drivers.

Shifting Gears can help you talk to your loved one in a safe environment. There are hundreds of senior motorists in the same boat, attending these seminars with children or friends, many of them driving themselves.

During the session, we introduce seniors to a program that measures eight physical and mental abilities shown to be the strongest predictors of crash risk among older drivers. The test provides feedback to guide the decision about their ability to drive safely.

We introduced this tool to Shifting Gears seminars last year and it was received extremely well.

Using videos and easy-to-follow instructions, Roadwise tests leg strength and general mobility, head and neck flexibility, high- and low-contrast visual acuity, working memory, visualization of missing information, visual search and useful field of view.

It’s important to note that no one will leave the Shifting Gears seminars without their driver’s licence, but hopefully everyone will leave a little wiser about their own driving abilities.

After all, as many seniors will point out, the problem really isn’t as simple as age.

Rather, it’s a range of things, from age-related medical conditions, changing abilities, infrastructure changes and our own education.

To register for Shifting Gears, call 1-877-588-2088 or visit our website at www.caasco.ca/advocacy.

Seminars will be held in October and November in Windsor, Guelph, Stoney Creek, Etobicoke and Markham.

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