Should you, your parent, or another loved one still be driving?
As people age, their driving abilities might diminish. However, many seniors can continue to drive well into their elder years if they take some steps to reduce risk factors and use extra caution. The first question to ask yourself or a loved one is to evaluate whether you actually are able to drive safely and competently. SeniorDriving by AAA offers the Drivers 65 Plus tool that asks a series of questions geared towards helping you determine whether it is still safe to drive. Once you’ve answered the questions, you can calculate your score, which will then give you an idea as to whether you are safe on the road, should use some additional caution, or should consider giving up the keys.
How your health affects your driving
Your physical health has a lot to do with how you would perform behind the wheel. The HelpGuide has guidelines to the main aspects to your health and wellness that you should consider as you evaluate your driving capabilities:
- Vision. Even if you’ve not had vision problems in the past, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of having an eye exam once a year. If you do wear corrective lenses, be sure that your prescription is current. Be sure that your windshield, mirrors and headlights are clean and well-maintained, and you can increase the brightness on your dashboard’s instrument panel. If you have glaucoma, tinted eyeglasses could reduce glare.
If you have issues with your eyesight, or if you are taking certain medications, you might have trouble focusing your peripheral vision, be extra sensitive to light, be less able to see in the dark or dim light, or you could experience blurred vision. In order to drive safely, you must be able to see traffic lights and street signs. You also need to be able to react to other motorists approaching from the rear or the side.
- Hearing. If you have a hearing aid, be sure that you always have it in and turned on when you are driving. A draft can impair the effectiveness of a hearing aid, so use caution if you are driving with windows open. You need to be able to hear emergency sirens, horns honking, or if someone nearby is accelerating quickly.
- Sleep. In order to be a good driver, you must be well-rested. If you are not getting good quality sleep, talk with your doctor. Also, ask your doctor about any medications that you’re taking that could be making you drowsy during the day.
- Reflexes. Quick reflexes and a good range of motion are essential when driving. If you need to brake suddenly or do a fast look over your shoulder, you need to be prepared.
- Memory. If you’re getting lost more often than you used to, missing exits that should be familiar to you, or struggling to remember how to get places, that is a sign that you should be evaluated by your doctor. Everyone has lapses of memory now and then, but if you notice that is more frequent, it should be a red flag.
Tips for driving safely in the senior years
There are tips for driving safely in the senior years, but, really, these are precautions that every driver should take, regardless of age. First, drive defensively. Allow sufficient time to brake, and travel with the flow of traffic. Second, your car is important. Make sure that the vehicle you drive is one that accommodates your needs. Automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes streamline the process of driving. Be sure that your car is in good working order and keep it regularly maintained. If you do need help with steering or using the pedals, an occupational therapist can prescribe equipment that could make these functions easier. Third, know your limitations. That could mean driving only during daylight, or avoiding highways. If something makes you uncomfortable, then do what you need to do to avoid it. If you feel nervous, you won’t be able to drive your best. There is nothing wrong with asking for a ride if you need one.
Finally, listen to your loved ones’ concerns. They care about your safety, and the safety of everyone else on the road. If friends or family members begin to question your driving ability, don’t brush it off. Listen. You can either use a self-evaluation tool or visit your doctor to see if there are ways to improve, or if it’s time to hang up the keys.