The pandemic is still very much around, no doubt, despite reports of the decreasing numbers of those contracting the disease. But as we approach our second holiday season in the grip of Covid-19, government seems more optimistic that a merrier Christmas will greet us, for apart from these steadily decreasing daily cases, our health authorities are pinning their hopes on the rapidly increasing number of fully inoculated individuals en route to that magic number of 70 percent of the population vaccinated for the so-called herd immunity to take effect.
Sooner or later, the most vulnerable members of our household, including senior citizens, will be allowed to travel freely outside of their residences. In fact, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) had recently eased its guidelines and said that effective Oct. 1, citizens above 65, as well as those below 18, would be allowed to go outdoors to exercise, but would still be limited to their general area of residence.
This was a development most welcomed by my 82-year-old father, who had been cooped up in the house for as long as the pandemic caused the government to enforce community quarantines.
He has made his intentions clear, that he would be driving his old van again.
It’s not that I don’t want my old man to experience the joy of driving again, but being aware of his age, I do have some misgivings about letting him behind the wheel after being so long removed from it.
Naturally, after I voiced my doubts to him, he scoffed at me. “It’s not my ability to drive that you should be doubting. The pandemic has created an atmosphere of fear and helplessness. That’s what we must unlearn,” he reasoned out.
He had a point, though. Before the pandemic, my father still showed demonstrably sharp driving skills, and he was proud of this. “Let me remind you that I still have my driver’s license valid up to 2025,” he gloated.
But I and my two siblings have stood firm on him taking precautions before driving out. We’ve arranged a schedule for his “driving skills check”, just to make sure that his mental and physical skills are up to par with the rigorous demands of driving in Metro Manila.
I believe other families who have elderly members that intend to drive after a long absence from the wheel should conduct their own driving skills check on them, as well. An article in a May 2021 issue of The Washington Post discussed how the pandemic’s ripple effect across people’s lives has been affecting driving, with reports of people forgetting some key aspects of driving, such as familiar routes, adjusting to driving at night, or losing track of the speed limits.
The Washington Post followed that up a couple of months later with another article suggesting that, after a long absence from driving due to the pandemic, individuals should “tune up their skills as well as their car.” The article also reminded readers to adjust their vehicle to fit their body, which may have changed over the past year.
The article also cited an important point that senior citizens must take into consideration: Consider whether any new or worsening conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes or vision impairment, might affect their driving, and if so, a support group composed of peers, family, and doctors can then help assess their fitness for driving.
To put these things in a local health perspective, I got in touch with Dr. Michelle Anlacan, MD, who specializes in Adult Neurology and Dementia at the Medical City, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and the Philippine General Hospital. She is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Neurosciences at the UP College of Medicine, and the Head of the Center for Memory and Cognition of the Philippine General Hospital. She is also the President of the Alzheimer’s Disease Association of the Philippines.
Anlacan revealed that the pandemic has most often exacerbated the following conditions associated with elderly individuals who have been diagnosed with memory problems or dementia:
o Slow reflexes: inability to react to perceived dangers on the road as quickly as they could have in their youth;
o Poor vision;
o Confusion with car controls;
o Confusion with new road signs, bike lanes, and the high volume of motorcycles;
o Confusion in intersections, especially on turning left;
According to Anlacan, the pandemic has also delayed the usual medical appointments and check-ups (particularly with ophthalmologists who could have otherwise pinpointed errors of refraction on their eyes) on seniors. The prolonged stay indoors may have made their eyes less accommodating to far and wide vision. Being confined for a prolonged period may have also dulled their agility and reflexes due to lack of exercise.
Anlacan advises seniors who are about to take the wheel after a long absence to “go slowly around the neighborhood first to get acquainted with the new normal. And it is always advisable to have someone in the same household bubble to accompany them in case of emergency.”
So, if your old folks say they want to drive again, don’t hide the keys from them. Just ask them to take things easy first. Let them drive around the neighborhood, with you or any other adult in the household accompanying them, and making keen observations on their driving behaviors, reflexes, command of car controls, and general driving attitude.