Elderly Driving

It starts with an increase in the number of close calls you have while driving down the road, or maybe a few minor scrapes and dents pulling into the garage or around the mailbox. You get lost a time or two driving to the grocery store. Then loved ones express concern that it may not be safe to let you keep your car keys, and soon, you too start to doubt if you should be behind the wheel. You know that you are getting older and your vision and reflexes aren’t what they used to be, but you still feel fairly mobile and independent, and the prospect of giving that up scares you or makes you feel like you have failed somehow.

As we advance in years, our minds and our bodies begin to deteriorate and slowly lose their function. When this happens, there can be both a general decline in the various faculties needed to safely drive and an increase in health problems that can limit one’s driving abilities. Just because you have reached your senior years, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to retire from driving. Having a better understanding of the challenges you are going through, and what can be done about them can give you the tools you need to safely stay behind the wheel longer.

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What Happens As We Age?

Your vision may start to deteriorate. Things will become harder to see in general, and it will also become more difficult to gauge distances. This can make defensive driving very hard and left turns will become especially challenging. 


Your reaction time will slow. It will become harder and take longer to get your foot from the gas to the brake. This will force you to travel at lower speeds and many times will have you guessing when you need to brake instead of braking when needed. 


The amount and types of medication you need to take will increase. Many times, while the medication is helping you medically, it can do things to hinder your ability to drive. Having clarity on your medication and the mix of prescriptions and vitamins you take is important. 

 

How Aging Affects Cognitive Abilities

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  1. Difficulty paying attention, especially to multiple stimuli such as traffic, the weather, stop signs and the radio. 
  2. Quick decisions become more difficult and reaction time slows. This can make it difficult to quickly brake, back out of a parking spot, or turn left across traffic. 
  3. Memory loss can make it difficult to remember driving directions or even forget where you were driving to altogether. 
  4. Forgetfulness can also lead to not maintaining the vehicle. This can be the smallest, simplest thing like filling the gas tank to the bigger routine maintenance items that arise. 

How Aging Can Affect Physical Abilities

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  1. Muscle weakness can make it harder to hold your arms up to the steering wheel for long periods. 
  2. Reduced stamina can make longer road trips exhausting and challenging. 
  3. Muscle coordination becomes a struggle and quick or precise movements can be more challenging. 
  4. Bladder and bowel control can be another issue for drivers. Being stuck in rush-hour traffic while suffering from incontinence is not only embarrassing but can distract drivers from the road.
  5. Aging can also bring on joint pain and arthritis, and tasks such as moving your foot between pedals or turning your neck to check for vehicles in your blind spot can become difficult.

How Aging Affects Visual Abilities

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  1. A decline in overall visual acuity can affect your ability to read street signs or clearly identify other objects on the road
  2. Aging drivers can be more sensitive to glare, or have more difficulty differentiating similar colors, such as a grey car during twilight hours or a bicyclist with a green shirt along a grassy shoulder.
  3. Depth perception may also decline, making it harder to judge the distance between them and intersections or other vehicles.
  4. A decline of peripheral vision can make it difficult to maintain your awareness of things around you on the road.

What Can I Do About My Driving Abilities?

Some people believe that there are 2 options: Driving, or Not Driving. But this is not the case. For many people, the last time they took a formal driving lesson was when they got their driver's license. Your physical, cognitive and visual abilities are changing. It makes sense that you need to learn how to drive under these new and changing conditions.

  1. If you have a medical issue (such as alzheimers or a stroke) that is causing you to be concerned about driving, you will want a Medical Driving Evaluation from our Certified Driving Rehab Specialist. This will help you determine your best path forward. 
  2. If you are simply concerned about your changing driving abilities and have not had a significant medical change, we recommend a non-medical driving lesson. We will evaluate your skills and then work on the areas where your changes in abilities are affecting your driving. 

Driving is your independence and your freedom. It also gives you a sense of pride to maintain your license and your car. You shouldn't have to give that up, unless you truly are unsafe to be behind the wheel. Retirement should be the last step, not the first and only step in your new driving journey.

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What Next Street Looks For When Assessing

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For our clients that need a medical evaluation, we work with each patient on an individual basis to determine what may be needed for them to continue to drive, or to help them make the transition into retirement from driving. We begin with a Clinical Evaluation where we check the patient’s vision, assess how perceptive they are of stimuli, and measure the speed at which they react to stimuli. We also help determine how well they are physically able to function in the different ways needed to operate a motor vehicle. We check how well they can move their joints and test their balance and reflexes. 

Finally, we will give them a behind-the-wheel evaluation to determine the specific skills needed to be worked on to continue safely driving. In this evaluation, the client will be driving our vehicle while our Certified Driving Rehab Specialist is in the passenger seat, assessing basic driving abilities. At the conclusion of the assessment, we will sit with you and determine a plan for your future of driving.

We understand that this process can be scary and cause anxiety. It is always our goal to help people understand their changing driving abilities and make the best decisions for their future behind the wheel. 

Want to read and learn more?

Check out the Driver Rehab blog to learn more about driving while aging.

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