Author: Peggy Gannon
As a mother of 2 teenagers (15 year old boy, 17 year old girl) and a 21 year old young man, I think I have all the anxiety of teaching someone how to drive wrapped up. I have experienced the male mentality and the oh so different female mentality on their approach to driving. I have found that regardless of which child is behind the wheel, when it comes to my kids, my patience in the passenger seat is 0%. Every accident that could possibly happen plays out in my head. My eyes are constantly darting around and I am asking them, “Did you see that car?” or “Slow down, you’re pulling up too fast.” By the end of the drive, we are both tired and irritated with each other. Not a very good experience any way you look at it.
On the other hand, when I am with a patient/client, I find my patience level is about 99% (we all have our moments) and I can explain, cue, prod and try to get the very best out of them. You may ask, well, what is the difference? Why aren’t you the same every time? In a nutshell—they aren’t mine. Because they are not my own children, I can separate my feelings and put on the therapist hat…the one that lets me be calm, cool and collected when needed.
How does this apply to you, your family and driving after a stroke? To me, it is the key factor! They are yours and no matter what, there is a level of anxiety, emotion and caring that comes into it. You have seen them from the moment they had the stroke and can recall every struggle and uncertainty that they have experienced. Sometimes it is hard to get past that. For example, when I speak at the inpatient Stroke Education group, I usually ask the patients who was driving prior to the stroke and who wants to return to it. I’d say 95% of the hands go up, regardless of how serious the stroke may have been. As their hands go up, so does the look of astonishment on the faces of the family members present. In their minds many are thinking: you can barely walk, how can you drive? What I try to present to them is that driving is not something they will be doing tomorrow—but it can be a future goal.
The following are a few tips and hints to help you navigate when your loved one wants to return to driving. Hopefully it gives you some help.
- Make sure your loved one completes all of their therapy. Many people either stop or may have difficulties getting to their therapy. As hard as it may be sometimes, it is important that the person who has had the stroke gets what has been recommended.
- Ask their therapist for input. Most people will get physical, occupational and or speech/cognitive therapy. Their therapist can help identify areas that need to improve that may affect driving skills. More than likely they have been given a home exercise program to assist in recovery. Encourage them to be diligent in completing this. Help them tie in how their therapy is helping them to return to driving.
- Be supportive, but realistic. If they aren’t able to walk or manage independently, they probably shouldn’t be driving. If they aren’t able to stay home alone, they shouldn’t be driving. Gently point out areas of concern. If they see you as the “bad guy”, enlist the help of a therapist.
- Get their vision checked if needed. Sometimes there are vision changes or people become light sensitive following a stroke. They may benefit from new glasses or sunglasses. I can’t tell you how many times I hear from the patient that they were going to have their eyes checked and then they had the stroke. Have any eye surgeries done prior to thinking about driving. Their vision needs to be at their best. If they did have changes in their peripheral vision following the stroke, it is very important to have this assessed and for them to be cleared from a legal standpoint. Florida has specific laws in regards to the degrees of peripheral vision that a person must have in order to be able to drive.
- Allow them to be a front seat driver! Pretend they are the driver and have them tell you what is going on. This can let them see if they are catching everything and get out of being in the “passenger” mode.
- Know the laws regarding seizures and driving. Not everyone has a seizure, but it is not completely uncommon. In Florida, the law states that a person is not allowed to drive until they are 6 months seizure free. Your physician can also advise on this.
- When you feel it is time to drive, TALK TO THEIR PHYSICIAN. In order to return to driving, the patient needs to consult his or her physician and get “permission”. I highly advise that the physician be one that has been involved in the client’s care and who has a good understanding of how strokes affect people. If they have a physiatrist (rehab physician), a neurologist, or PCP who is well versed, that would be a good starting point. Many patients feel that they can just resume driving, but truly, in most medical records it is stated that they should not return to driving unless cleared by their physician.
- If the physician is uncomfortable releasing them, or if you have questions yourself, a Driving Evaluation can be completed at Brooks. This is a comprehensive 3 hour evaluation that looks at cognitive and physical capabilities as well as their driving skills. It may be that the person needs the vehicle modified or specialized training. This can be identified at the evaluation. The driving evaluation is a self pay item and not covered by insurance, however, is it truly identifies if someone should return to driving and if any problem areas exist.
- Driving is one of those things we learn and never want to give up. If you believe, however, that your loved one is not capable and there is no reasoning with them, you can anonymously report them to the State (Florida). There are online forms that can be completed and submitted. You must sign your name, but that person will not know it was you and they will not give them that information even if they ask.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. I do believe it can be too soon to return to driving, but I don’t think it is ever too late to try. Everyone has to have a dream, a goal, a carrot that keeps them going. I can tell you it is the sweetest feeling to be sitting next to someone who has not driven in months (or even years) and it is their first time back behind the wheel. Their joy makes your day.