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Driving the Elderly

7 Do's and Don'ts When Driving an Older Adult

By Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com senior editor, and Carol O'Dell, Caring.com contributing editor
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Sure, you've been driving with your loved one for what seems like forever. But his or her changing needs may mean that a few adjustments are in order that will make outings, short or long, more enjoyable for all.

Some do's and don'ts:

1. Do provide a pillow or soft booster for your loved one.

Many older adults experience a collapsing of the spinal cord that can make it uncomfortable to sit for long periods. Better yet, keep a couple of cushions of different sizes on hand, one to sit on and another to support the back.

2. Don't assume the passenger-side air bag is safest.

If your loved one has become very small and frail, that air bag may be a hazard. Individuals with medical conditions can qualify to have the air bag deactivated. Only an authorized dealer or repair shop can install the on/off switch, with an approved form from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

3. Do check that the seat belt doesn't chafe or rub.

A booster cushion to raise the body or a soft cloth around the part that rubs can help.

4. Don't leave a frail older loved one in a closed car while you run in to do an errand.

Temperatures in a car can change precipitously (hot or cold), and he or she is apt to be sensitive to such fluctuations. If you leave the car running, your loved one just may try to drive it away. Someone with dementia or even mild confusion might wander off. You can't know when a line will be long or a glitch will turn a 30-second errand into a 5-, 10-, or 15-minute one.

5. Do pack an emergency bag.

Because you never know when a mini crisis will strike, it can't hurt to make like a Boy Scout and be prepared. Surreptitiously pack a special in-case-of-emergency bag for your loved one and stash it in the trunk of your car, out of sight. In it, include a change of clothing, including underwear, spare absorbent pads, or absorbent underwear if used; a sweater and a lap robe, in case of weather changes; an extra rain bonnet or ball cap, depending what your loved one favors; snacks such as granola bars and water bottles; extra medication such as glucose tabs. You never know when a doctor appointment will run long, the weather will change, the coffee will spill, or an episode of incontinence or just a pesky leaky bladder will make the bag a godsend.

6. Don't forget bathroom breaks.

While you may be able to go three or four hours without a bathroom break or a beverage, remember that your loved one may find that difficult. Take regular breaks.

7. Do make it fun.

Get some CDs of oldies or classical music, especially if the person tends to be grumpy. Take a lunch break at a spot you know has special appeal to your loved one.