Continuing to drive safely as we age is a very important to us all. We feel more independent when we can take care of our own transportation needs. However, having other transportation options on hand is a good idea. As is knowing about the changes that occur with age that affect our driving safety. So, what are some of the things drivers should be aware of over time?
The NIH Senior Health webpage on Older Drivers— “How Health Affects Driving” (http://nihseniorhealth.gov/olderdrivers/howhealthaffectsdriving/01.html), notes that “health matters more than age”. The article outlines that sensory changes occur in vision and hearing that can compromise driver safety. The speed at which we process information normally changes over time, slowing reaction time somewhat. Physical changes in strength, flexibility, and coordination can create issues with monitoring movement near the car. Chronic conditions, including issues with increased pain and stiffness, may result in medications being prescribed that can affect attention and equilibrium.
With this information in mind, Mayo Clinic’s website article under Healthy Aging-- “Older drivers: 7 tips for driver safety” (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/senior-health/art-20046397?pg=1), lists things to consider as we age to increase our driving safety: 1) Searching for ways to safely stay active physically, including checking with our doctor prior to increasing physical activity. 2) Staying up-to-date on recommended physical exams, hearing evaluations, and vision testing even when we feel there are no changes. 3) Continuing to follow up with our doctors as recommended and needed. It is important to know how our medications may negatively affect us and to act accordingly. 4) Knowing our physical limitations and considering a comprehensive driving assessment for recommendations on adjustments needed for safer driving. 5) Thinking about a change in our driving habits, to be on the road when conditions are more optimal rather than driving at night, in bad weather, in busy traffic, or in unfamiliar areas. 6) Knowing where we are headed when we get behind the wheel and how to get there. As well, it is crucial to pay full attention to driving and eliminate distractions that can be controlled (not changing radio stations or talking on the phone while driving). 7) Lastly, consider a course geared toward older driver safety to refresh driving skills.
If concerned about driving safety, consider scheduling a driving evaluation. Here are websites with information about driving programs in the following areas:
- The Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville offers a Comprehensive Driving Program: http://www.patneal.org/?id=1467&sid=14 or call 865-541-1958.
- The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center -- Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute in Nashville offers a Driving Evaluation Program: http://www.vanderbilthealth.com/billwilkerson/28823.
- Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation in Chattanooga offers a Comprehensive Driving Program: https://www.siskinrehab.org/patient-care/therapy-services/driving-evaluation-program/.
If unsure where to turn for alternative transportation options when making changes in driving habits, consult your Aging Life Care Professional ™ about connecting with community resources; or call your local Office on Aging for more information.
By Elaine Wilson, LCSW and Aging Life Care Professional™