Guest Feature: Safety with Caregiver Action Network

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Summer is a time when many families and friends gather, so it’s a good time to think about how to keep your loved ones safe. Caregiver Action Network represents the more than 90 million Americans who are caregivers for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of old age—and keeping those we care for safety is a huge part of what caregiving is about.

The ability to keep driving and the need to change driving habits or stop driving is often difficult to navigate between caregivers and their loved ones. Hearing loss, changes in visual acuity, slower reflexes, chronic diseases, and medications can all affect the ability to drive safely. If your loved one has difficulty staying in their lane, has more near crashes, has trouble concentrating, or you start seeing more dents or scrapes on their vehicle, these are signs that it may be time for your loved one to consider their options for remaining safe on the road. Some of these changes could be as easy as just changing habits, such as opting to carpool to an event. Or it could be seeing a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist or getting a vehicle evaluated by CarFit to make sure it fits the driver’s needs.

Driving is a powerful symbol of independence, so it’s helpful to start talking about this while the warning signs are still mild. You may want to ease into the subject of driving—start with an agreement to no longer drive in bad weather, after dark, or long distances. This way, when the time comes, the idea of not driving anymore may not be as much of a shock. You can also explain the risks and remind them that there is a chance of them hurting themselves or others. It may help to provide alternatives. Offer to help them learn about how to find and use other transportation options in your area or volunteer to drive them places.

Medication management is crucial task for many caregivers and another way they can ensure their loved one is staying safe. People with chronic diseases or disabilities take more medications, so it’s important to keep an up-to-date medication list. A Medication List should include the name of the drug, dosage, start and stop dates, what the medication looks like, any record of side effects – including impacts on safe driving, and what the drug is treating.

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, items in the home may be just as dangerous as driving on the road. Make sure that hazardous materials like cleaning supplies, knives and scissors, medication, and any toiletries that could be harmful if ingested are locked away. To prevent burns, fire, or smoke inhalation, you can remove the knobs on the stovetop and place them in a drawer or try safety knob covers. Your loved one’s condition may cause them to become overwhelmed, confused, or lost on the road; It may be time to make an alternative transportation plan with your loved one.

Trying to allow your loved one to keep as much independence as possible while making efforts to keep them safe may seem like a difficult balancing act at times. Work to make the transition as easy as possible, but at some point, you may need to be firm—so be prepared for anger and frustration. But some frustration on your part and possibly anger on the part of your loved one is a small price to pay for their safety.

As more individuals become vaccinated against COVID-19 and gatherings and travel become safer, you may be planning to visit with friends and family soon yourself. It’s important to make sure that you and your loved one have been vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people can gather safely in small groups indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing. Guidance changes regularly, so visit CAN’s website for more information available on Covid-19 and to learn how you can continue to keep yourself and your loved one safe. 

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