Q: Our family's main concern is our dad's driving. He's 80 and in very poor health physically and mentally. Aside from many serious health issues, he had a midsize stroke a few...

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Q:

Our family’s main concern is our dad’s driving. He’s 80 and in very poor health physically and mentally. Aside from many serious health issues, he had a midsize stroke a few years ago and now his temper gets way out of control. There will be hell to pay if one of us takes the car away, so my sister and I would have to do it together, and she won’t.

We all agree he’s dangerous behind the wheel. He makes very little sense when he talks but puts on the “sweet little old man” routine and gets what he wants with no problem — including his driver’s license renewal.


A:

I’m sure many readers are nodding in sympathy, knowing someone like this man. Unsafe older drivers are a growing problem nationwide — not because of age but because health conditions that become more common with age can impair driving — and can turn otherwise benign people into menaces behind the wheel.

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According to AARP, there are now 18 million drivers older than 70, up from 13 million just a decade ago. In a few years, 76 million aging boomers will be cruising the streets.

Unfortunately, “there’s no perfect solution,” says Brad Benfield with the Washington State Department of Licensing. But, depending on the situation and the personality of the person in question, families have several options:


Get the person to attend a driver’s refresher course

offered through AARP, AAA Washington, or other organizations. A list of these courses is on the department’s Web site at www.dol.wa.gov/ds/senior.htm or call 360-902-3900. Even better is to attend a commercial driving school where the person has one-on-one attention.


Call the person’s doctor

and outline the problems he’s having behind the wheel. Ask the doctor to write a letter or prescription telling him not to drive anymore.

Neither of these sound workable with this reader’s dad, so I strongly advise the third option:


Contact the nearest drivers’ licensing office

and file a written report giving specifics about the person’s poor driving (you can obtain this form at any licensing office or on the department’s Web site).

After assessing the situation, the department can call the person in for re-examination. Possible results: The person’s license can be revoked; his driving can be restricted, such as not driving after dark; or the department can require a physician to determine whether the person is safe to drive.

The department doesn’t act on anonymous tips. If the person requests in writing who complained about his driving, state law requires the department to identify the person. Which is why it might be better to ask a doctor — or even a neighbor — to submit this report to the DOL. It can come from anyone.

Last year, the department conducted 4,500 re-examinations for medical reasons. Of these, 140 people had their licenses revoked and 500 had restrictions placed on their ability to drive.

Our state’s solutions to the problem of unsafe older drivers aren’t simply imperfect — they’re downright wimpy. Given the extreme danger unsafe older drivers present to all of us — and the shattered family relationships that can occur when a daughter or son seeks to get their parent off the street — it’s time for more meaningful measures.

Here’s something else to think about. According to Stephanie Marquis of the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office, if someone causes a car accident because of a medical condition — even one they didn’t know about — their insurance company may not be legally liable and could deny the claim.

So, even if the law doesn’t support families trying to stop an unsafe parent from driving, the simple economics of possibly losing insurance coverage might be an important motivator.


Q:

I have a dear friend who’s 97 years old, sharp mentally but slowing down physically after a fall that broke her foot. She needs daily help with chores, meals, bill paying and errands. Is there an organization in the Seattle area that provides that? Does a person’s medical insurance cover it?


A:

Medical insurance doesn’t cover the kind of in-home help your friend needs, nor does Medicare. The insurance that does is long-term care insurance, but at age 97 and frail, this woman is no longer eligible. She’ll pay out of pocket for this assistance or, if she’s very poor, get help through Medicaid.

And yes, there are home-care businesses set up to provide the assistance you describe. The place to start: Senior Information and Assistance, which offers free telephone and Web site lists for a host of services for older adults on a countywide basis nationwide.

You can reach these offices in King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties toll free by calling 888-435-3377. Lists of home-care agencies in King County can be obtained on the Web at www.seniorservices.org.

Liz Taylor’s column runs Mondays in the Northwest Life section. A specialist on aging and long-term care, she consults with individuals and teaches workshops on how to plan for one’s aging — and aging parents. E-mail her at growingolder@seattletimes.com or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. You can see all of her columns at www.seattletimes.com/growingolder/.