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Finding the right “fit” for older drivers

Students from St. Kate’s OT and OTA program put their occupational therapy skills to the test at a recent CarFit event at Roseville Fire Station.
Students from St. Kate’s OT and OTA program put their occupational therapy skills to the test at a recent CarFit event at Roseville Fire Station.
Photo supplied.

Sixteen of St. Kate’s Occupational Therapy and Occupational Therapy Assistant students staged a CarFit event at the Roseville Fire Station last Thursday. CarFit is designed to help older drivers improve the “fit” and safety of their vehicles through a 12-point checklist that includes everything from tilting the steering wheel properly to adjusting the distance to the gas and brake pedals.

“As people age, sometimes their cars do not fit them anymore, or they take over driving a spouse’s car, so they need to learn how to adjust,” says Catherine Sullivan, associate professor of occupational science and occupational therapy, who led the students’ work at the event.

Nearly 25 older drivers received education on how to make their car safer — including a spry 98-year-old. The most popular recommendation was how to adjust the mirrors to eliminate blind spots. Another common source of trouble: seat belts.

“A surprising number of older drivers don’t wear seat belts anymore because arthritis makes it difficult for them to reach behind their shoulder,” explains Sullivan. “Sometimes it’s as simple as showing the drivers that there’s a hook — or even a ribbon from home — that will enable them to more easily grab the seat belt.”

Students also educated older drivers on other assistive devices, including foam wedges to make it easier to see over the steering wheel, and handles to aid them with standing when exiting the car.

Opportunities like this provide a valuable bridge from classroom learning to practice.

“Figuring out how to effectively communicate with an older adult who has hearing issues, or provide practical advice for someone with mobility issues, really puts things into perspective for the students,” says Sullivan. “They feel the relevance of what they’re learning – say with assistive devices – by actually seeing them put into action.” 

More about CarFit

CarFit was originally developed as a public service to promote increased safety among drivers over age 55 by the American Society on Aging, in collaboration with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), American Occupational Therapy Association, and American Automobile Association (AAA).

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April 28, 2015 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Education, Faculty, Healthcare, Students