Older Drivers and Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness

Doctor sitting with a patient

The leading causes of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and concussions in older adults are falls and motor vehicle crashes. A TBI is an injury that affects how the brain works. 

"We know that symptoms of a brain injury are often confused with depression, memory loss, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, and Alzheimer’s and dementia, which health professionals may attribute to aging itself rather than brain injury,” says Rebeccah Wolfkiel, Executive Director of the National Association of State Head Injuries (NASHIA). “This can be problematic because some medicines prescribed for these symptoms can actually worsen challenges related to the brain injury. Screening for brain injury after a fall or crash is important to ensure that an individual gets connected to the supports needed to recover as quickly as possible." For more information about screening for brain injury, visit www.nashia.org. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a convenient chart outlining symptoms for Mild TBI as well as Moderate and Severe TBI symptoms.

Seek medical care if you or the older adult in your life show signs of a TBI or concussion. Your healthcare provider may have treatment options to help speed up your recovery and provide an assessment to ensure there aren’t further risks to the patient, especially if the patient is on blood thinners, such as: 

  • Anticoagulants, such as warfarin (Coumadin), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), and apixaban (Eliquis); and
  • Antiplatelet medications, such as clopidogrel (Plavix), ticagrelor (Brilinta), and acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin).

Understandably, following a TBI, people want to be able to resume the activities they once enjoyed, including driving. A return to driving after a TBI may involve assessments from a doctor to determine the older adult’s fitness to drive. 

The doctor may also recommend the older adult see a driver rehabilitation specialist. Driving rehabilitation specialists are specifically trained to identify warning signs of at-risk driving. A driving rehabilitation specialist can suggest steps to take to improve safety on the road, how drivers might modify their vehicles for increased safety, and advise when an older driver might want to stop driving, whether temporarily or on a long-term basis.

For more information on what to expect from a driving assessment:

After the doctor, driver rehabilitation specialist, or other healthcare provider advise the older adult that they can return to driving, regular self-checks can help promote driver safety. 

Several free tools are available for older adults, their family members, and caregivers to identify when or if the older driver shows warning signs of at-risk driving. The Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety (ChORUS) website has an easy self-check questionnaire on driving safety you can do with the older driver in your life. Use the ChORUS Transportation Planning Tool to plan for their transportation needs, whether they are a driver or a passenger. Once completed, the tool gives a customized list of information and resources with links to help the older driver take steps to improve their safety on the road.

Find other short self-assessments that you can complete with an older driver, along with more comprehensive assessments that can help confirm whether an individual may benefit from consulting a medical professional or driving rehabilitation specialist on the ChORUS website.

Learn more about TBI and concussion from the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: