Aging & Driving a serious consideration

By Rebecca Holder

Summertime and the living is easy … and hot. It’s also the time when many of us hit the road—taking vacations, visiting family, attending graduations and weddings, enjoying outdoor activities, and catching up on appointments postponed during winter’s chill.

Driving is freedom and independence. Driving is also an area of concern for many of us as we age. Questions of safety and capability arise: Should we get behind the wheel? How much longer should we drive? Let’s take the training wheels off and get serious about the driving discussion, starting with a few quick pieces of information.

First, the two most dangerous groups on the road are males under age 20 and everyone over age 75. Before taking offense about “everyone over 75,” take a moment and understand why this is so. Studies, by everyone from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to Consumer Reports, show these two groups are the most likely to be involved in fatal accidents. For young drivers, inexperience and alcohol are major factors.

For the 75+ age group, the influencing factors that put them at greater risk are:

Decreased sensory input—changes in vision and hearing

Decreased processing time and response—input processing, reflexes, coordination, and flexibility decline

Increased medical factors—multiple illnesses or medical conditions as well as medications for those conditions

Increased fragility—more likely to suffer adverse outcomes, including death, from an auto accident

Secondly, when it comes time to hit the road, make sure you’re ready to roll. Be aware of your risk factors before they are risk factors. Talk about your safety and ability to drive throughout your driving “life” and involve family, friends and professionals in the discussion.

There are steps you can take before getting behind the wheel to become
a better, safer driver.

Vision and hearing checks—make sure there are no undetected problems; eyeglasses and hearing aids are properly adjusted

Exercise and diet—proper diet and exercise can improve range of motion, reaction time, strength, coordination, and attentiveness

Physical check-up—ensure medical conditions and medications don’t interfere with the ability to drive safely

Be a player—though there’s no solid evidence video games help with “cognitive training” or reaction times, but they do require players to think and react quickly and use a broad field of vision

Wear your seat belt – every time you’re in a car!

Know the mechanics—keep your car in top condition; service it on a regular basis and address any problems as soon as possible

Use add-ons—consider accessories like additional and/or larger mirrors, larger knobs, and seat cushions to position you properly to make driving safer

Plan ahead—use maps, GPS, or write down directions; allow extra time to take safer routes or for weather conditions; avoid distractions such as phones, the radio, or a chatty passenger

Never drive if drowsy—stop, pull over to a safe location and take a nap, walk and stretch, or have some coffee, but don’t continue to drive

Follow these tips and you can take the driver’s seat with confidence—keeping yourself, and those around you on the road, safe. So hit the road this summer, knowing you’ve done your part to keep the roads safe for everyone. Happy, and safe, travels!

HELPFUL RESOURCES The AARP Driver Safety (the previous “55 Alive” program) is one of the oldest, and best, training opportunities around for older adults. If a program isn’t available in your community, check out the AARP Driving Resource Center online. There’s something for everyone, including interactive driving simulations, a drug interaction checker, traffic law games, informational videos, and an event locator. On the website, look under “Information for You, Driver Safety.” As you would expect, the AAA is a wealth of information. Their Senior Driver website is user-friendly and offers lots of links that are helpful to the senior driver as well as family members, including an interactive driving evaluation. Look under the tab “About AAA” and click on “Driving and Safety Classes” and “Safe Driving Resources” for more information. Another program with AAA is CarFit, which is designed to help you determine if your vehicle “fits” you properly—the positioning and adjustment of seats, seatbelts, mirrors, the steering wheel, and more.

Rebecca Holder is a licensed nursing home administrator and general contractor specializing in helping older adults age independently.


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