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.
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.
Absolutely not. In many cases, our aging patients haven't had their driving reviewed by a professional or received any driver training since their original license test when they were sixteen years old. Your body and your mind are changing. You may simply need to better understand these changes and get training on how to successfully drive with them.
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.
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 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. 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.