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.
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.
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.
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.