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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Driving towards independence

Jan 03, 2024 09:49AM ● By Tabatha Stewart

Last year, Charles “Bud” Markos, 80, was facing an all-too familiar dilemma for many seniors—whether or not he could, or should, continue driving. Peripheral neuropathy had affected the lower part of his right leg, which left him with the inability to feel how hard he was pushing on the gas or brake pedal. The neuropathy had hindered his ability to drive for the better part of a year, and he had to rely on his wife Beverly to drive him everywhere.

“Beverly was a real trooper,” said Markos. “It was an inconvenience, and it took away a lot of my independence and freedom. You don’t realize the importance of your freedom until it’s taken away.”

At his wits end, Markos spoke with his primary care physician Dr. Joseph Salganik and shared his concerns and frustrations about his diminishing driving skills. Like many seniors, Markos was afraid his doctor might recommend he stop driving for good.

To his surprise, Dr. Salganik referred Markos to the Family Health West Driver Rehabilitation Program. There he met with Kaitlin Finch, an occupational therapist and certified driver rehabilitation specialist.

Through a series of tests, Finch worked with Markos to determine the safest way for him to resume driving, and within a year he was back behind the wheel and driving his wife around.

“I knew I needed to do something, and was afraid of not being able to drive again,” said Markos. “I didn’t know there was a program like this one that would help you adapt to new ways of driving and allow me to get my independence back.”

The answer to Markos’ neuropathy was to adapt his car with hand controls, so it wasn’t necessary to use his feet to manipulate the pedals. Finch spent time in the car, with Markos driving, and taught him how to use the new adaptive equipment. 

“It took me five sessions behind the wheel, and I drove my car back from the garage,” said Markos. “Then I took Beverly for a ride around the block, and she was thrilled.”


The Family Health West Driver Rehabilitation program is the only service of its kind on the Western Slope, and offers rehabilitation services to drivers with dozens of diagnoses. 

Drivers suffering from amputations, ADD, ADHD, MS, early stage dementia, stroke or diminishing vision can get referrals from their doctor to get training and support to continue driving.

Jill Wohlgemuth began the original program, Shift to Independence, before selling the practice to Family Health West. She has been an occupational therapist for more than 20 years, and said there are less than 500 certified driver rehabilitation specialists in all of the U.S. and Canada.

“Our role is not to take people’s driver’s licenses away from them, or force them into driving retirement,” said Wohlgemuth. “Rather, we want to help them keep driving as long as they can. We make recommendations that most of the time make it safer for the driver to continue driving.”

Some cases, such as traumatic brain injuries or amputations, are often referred to driving rehabilitation as part of a patient’s recovery and occupational therapy. Unfortunately, according to Wohlgemuth, not many senior citizens willingly talk to their doctors about their driving concerns.

“Patients are afraid of what their doctor might say, and doctors are afraid that an angry patient won’t return,” Wohgemuth said. “They’re both valid concerns, but in reality, talking about your concerns with your doctor could actually help you drive longer, and live a more independent life.”


Knowing when to ask your doctor for a referral to the Family Health West program can be uncertain, but according to Finch, it’s better to do it sooner than later.

“Whether it’s the client themselves or family members who are concerned about them, it’s better to talk with your doctor sooner,” said Finch. “Don’t wait until an accident has happened to talk about it. Then it’s too late.”

Finch recommends asking your doctor for a driving assessment if you are concerned about your driving skills, even if you have undergone cognitive testing.

“Sometimes with the pencil and paper testing, people can do really well, or even do poorly,” said Finch. “But when you get behind the wheel with one of us beside you, we can get a real look at your driving ability.”

For more information visit or call 970-858-2147.