New program evaluates driving skills

By Delores Morsching

Avera St. Luke's

Avera St. Luke's service provides objective assessment

Sometimes older drivers just don't
Clinical evaluation

The program evaluates a person's driving skills and provides rehabilitation as needed to enable a person to resume or continue driving safely. It includes a comprehensive clinical evaluation of a patient's potential to drive and an on-the-road or behind-the-wheel assessment.

"The goal is not to take people off the road," Phipps stressed. "If they are safe to drive, we want them to continue to do so."

Sometimes older adults just need help in modifying their driving habits to enable them to continue to get where they need to go safely. Occupational therapists might recommend adaptive equipment or driving strategies that improve driving abilities. If clients aren't able to drive safely, the therapist will make recommendations to discontinue driving and follow up with mobility counseling.

Meet the needs

The reason for developing a driving rehab program is to meet the needs locally of individuals with diagnoses that could impair functions necessary for driving, Phipps said. These diagnoses might include developmental delay, dementia, stroke, amputation, head injury, spinal cord injury, visual deficits, cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, sleep disorders, vertigo, psychiatric diseases, attention deficit disorder, metabolic diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal disabilities, peripheral vascular diseases, renal disease and hearing loss.

Physicians often need a way to further assess a patient's physical and mental abilities, in order to make recommendations about driving. The American Medical Association issued guidelines in June 2003 to help physicians address driving with older patients. The guidelines suggest physicians send patients to a driving rehab specialist, and this specialist is often an occupational therapist.

For more information, contact the Occupational Therapy Department at Avera St. Luke's at (605) 622-5714. Private insurance may cover this program; Medicare will cover clinical testing, but not behind-the-wheel assessments unless adaptive equipment is required.

Free screenings will also be offered at the Red Cross Health Fair on Saturday at the Barnett