The mishap in which the 82-year-old Fredericksburg man went missing after driving off yesterday only to turn up early this morning in Maryland highlights an often quietly difficult situation many seniors and their families face: to drive or not to drive.
It’s a tough call for any person or family to make, but there are resources out there that can help with the kind of problems that arise when older drivers are struggling on the road (see links below).
Driving is “a symbol of independence,” said Fredericksburg Police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe, who blogged earlier about Gilbert Wood being found.
The city man drove off in his van sometime early yesterday and was reported missing last night. A clerk at a mom and pop store in Loveville, Md., found an unharmed, though confused, Wood at 5 this morning. A deputy responded and found Wood listed in the national database for missing people. The Virginia State Police had also sent out a senior alert (the same thing as an Amber Alert for kids) yesterday.
Bledsoe said situations like Wood’s (it was the second time he’s wandered off in his van; he was reported missing in July and turned up in Loudoun County) aren’t a common problem, but she said “it’s frightening” when a person is driving while not being cognizant of where they’re going or how they got there.
In her blog, she highlighted Project Lifesaver, a city program that uses wireless transponder wristbands to help keep track of those who are prone to wandering off, such as seniors with dementia. The department also has six “electronic search specialists” who monitor the program.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has the Mature Driver program with resources to help with seniors and driving.
Some seniors unfortunately can no longer drive safely, and DMV has a medical advisory board that can restrict or revoke licenses.
There are numerous local and state options to help find out if there is an issue or to help should there be a problem that leaves a senior citizen without a license:
- Virginia Grand Driver offers help with senior driving issues and its website has links and contact information for testing centers throughout the state.
- Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging has a Mobility Options program that provides transportation for seniors.
- FREDericksburg Regional Transit. Anyone can ride the bus service.
And just so seniors don’t get a bad rap, they are not even close to the worst drivers, as can be seen in the box below with DMV’s 2010 statistics on fatalities and injuries.