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New program gets senior drivers up to speed

March 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
More Americans are living longer. That means more older American drivers are staying on the road. At what point do these drivers become a hazard to themselves and others? Glendale Adventist Medical Center offers a new program designed to help people remain safe as they navigate our roads.Jerry Laska, 72, has taken a refresher driving course. He wasn't too sure he could get back behind the wheel after a stroke two months ago.

"It would have changed it a lot. It would have taken away my independence, my mobility," said Laska.

The stroke shook his confidence.

"His family was very concerned about him getting back on the road," said Robin Hoos, a driving rehab specialist. "He had some coordination problems with his left side."

That's when he entered the Driver Rehabilitation and Community Mobility Program at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

"Any life changing event can affect your ability to drive," said Hoos.

Hoos says it's hard for family members to tell loved ones they can't drive because they won't listen. About 80 percent of students in her program return to driving.

"A lot of them came in and said they're not going to drive any more. So it's really good to afford them that opportunity," said Hoos.

Therapists test for range of motion, strength, and coordination. For some drivers, who can't use their feet very well, a new device let's them do all the driving by hand.

"It's a push and pull type system. You push and pull to use the gas and the brake," said Dora Garcia, with Allstate Driving School.

While adaptive equipment can help with motor skill impairments, drivers still need to know where they're going or how to recognize signs. That's why testing for cognitive and visual perceptive abilities are very important.

"I wouldn't put anybody on the road that would be a danger to themselves or anybody else," said Hoos.

Garcia says with older drivers often it's a just a matter of getting rid of bad habits.

"I tell them to check their mirrors, look over their shoulder and let them know about the five second rule for signaling," said Garcia.

Jerry Laska passed with flying colors.

"It helped my confidence to know that I could still do it," said Laska.

An initial assessment which includes sessions with an occupational therapist, and a driving instructor runs about $400. Follow up services, like driving instruction, run about $60 to a $100 an hour.