The aging adult and the privilege of driving
The process of aging can affect our driving. Getting older does not mean that we need to give up the keys. However, changes in eye sight, physical condition and slower response times may cause safety concerns. More and more older drivers are on the roads these days. The numbers are going to increase as the baby boomers begin to retire. It is important to understand that aging doesn’t automatically mean that you become a unsafe driver. Many of us continue to be good, safe drivers as we age. But there are changes that can affect driving skills as we age.
Aging and driving safely
For your safety and that of others, we need to take responsibility an not take the privilege of driving for granted. With that responsibility we will need to be honest with ourselves as well as others and pay special attention to your limitations
A decrease in our flexibility. Over time our joints may get stiff and our muscles weaken. It can become more difficult to turn your head. Stiff shoulders and bad knees can affect how we drive. A few seconds of slower reaction time can make a difference in safety.
Eyesight changes. Our eyesight is the primary sense utilized in driving. Our eyes relay the information to our brain as se drive. As we age we require more light to see things. Oncoming headlights, street lights and sun glare may affect what we are able to see. . Night vision, lack of light at night, affects our ability to see things clearly and can affect our response time. The area you can see around you (called peripheral vision) may become narrower. Aging eyes are a part of aging and driving concerns.
Response time is slower A few seconds can make a difference in a serious situation. Difficulty concentrating may make it difficult for you to do two things at once. These are all normal changes of aging, but they can affect your ability to drive safely
Decrease in hearing Hearing may affect your ability to respond in a safe and timely fashion to oncoming emergency vehicles or someone honking to make you aware of a dangerous situation.
Cognitive changes or conditions that cause mental decline may affect ones ability to drive. Confusion or forgetfulness may exhibit increase problems with the aging driver by having more traffic tickets, warnings or even “almost” had an accident events.
It is important that caregivers and friends monitor their driving over time. As the disease worsens, it will affect driving ability and can result in a disaster. It is important to note that anyone exhibiting more than a slight cognitive impairment should be advised not to drive.
AAA senior driving self assessment quiz will help you to identify areas in your driving skills that may need improvement and make recommendations to assist you to continue to be a safe driver.
How aging and driving are affected by medical conditions
Medical conditions occur as we age and can affect driving at any age, some occur more often as we get older. Many of these conditions affect the safety of being in the driver’s seat. Conditions that can cause impaired consciousness, coordination, dizziness, sleepiness, irregular heart beats and depression can make for unsafe driving practices.
Medications and aging don’t always mix. As we age we are prescribed medications for our medical conditions. These medications my have side effects or interactions with other drugs. Driving under the influence of prescribed or over the medications may not appear to be unsafe, but just like drinking and driving, you must be sure that you are responsible for being aware of the side effects and adverse reactions of your medications. Driving under the influence of medication is not an easy subject to address. Some medications may make it easier for some aging adults to continue driving.
Medications can affect the skills we need to drive for a safe driving performance.
To reduce the risk of having an accident or injury due to medication side effects it is important that
- You pay close attention to changes in your vision, such as blurriness or visual distortions
- Watch for a change in coordination, balance, strength and dizziness
- Be concerned about changes in mental status such as difficulty concentrating, poor judgment, and problem solving
- Don’t drive if you are experiencing excessive drowsiness or if you or experiencing insomnia. You may fall asleep at the wheel and are at risk for potential serious harm or death to yourself and others.
- Discuss any over the counter drugs you purchase with your pharmacist and ask if they will have potential for interacting with your prescribed medications.
- Don’t drive for any reason or for any distance if you experience any changes in your sensory, physical or mental abilities.
Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist about the risks of medications that you may be taking and how they may affect you. Some medications cause sedation, dizziness, fatigue, a decrease in the ability to concentrate and slower response time.
Steps to take to avoid a deadly mix of medications and driving are:
- Avoid alcohol and medication use. Together this combination can change how the medication works. It could actually be detrimental to your health.
- When using time released medications observe for side effects as discussed above. Time release means just that. The medication is released into your body over time. Avoid driving until you know you are able to responsibly drive your car.
Research shows that accident rates increase due to many of the loss of normal functions due to the aging process. Driving is a privilege and with that privilege comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. As we age, it is our responsibility to assure the safety of ourselves and the safety of others. Make sure to access if aging and driving is still working for you.