For many seniors, driving is perceived as a big factor in maintaining independence. While simply getting older doesn’t automatically make you a bad driver, there are many physical and sensory changes that can affect your ability to operate a vehicle safely. Some of the things to consider include:
- Physical Ability – things like arthritis, muscle pain, and stiffness can affect your ability to turn the wheel, brake safely, or turn your head to observe your surroundings.
- Vision – Cataracts, macular degeneration and other age-related eye problems can cause changes to your vision that make operating a vehicle unsafe. If you wear glasses, glare can make it difficult to drive at night or in bright sunlight. Navigation becomes difficult if you can’t read warning signs or street names.
- Hearing – If your hearing has declined, you might not notice honking horns, emergency sirens, or even noises from your own vehicle that could indicate an unsafe situation.
- Reaction Time – Being able to make a quick decision is a key to safe driving. Mental and physical changes can slow reaction times and lead to accidents.
- Health Complications – Some conditions can make driving difficult or unsafe. Many conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke or arthritis can affect the ability to make or execute the decisions needed to navigate a vehicle.
- Medications – There are many medicines that can diminish the ability to stay alert. It is important to read the warning labels and talk to your doctor or pharmacist to determine if you should avoid driving while taking your medications.
If you are getting lost frequently, being honked at, have been involved in “fender benders,” or had family members express concern about your driving, it might be time to give serious thought to surrendering the keys. The fact is, with the population living longer, most people do outlive their driving ability by several years. If you are unsure, there are programs available that will test your driving ability and classes to help you brush up on your skills. Some insurance companies even offer discounts if you pass a driver refresher course.
Giving up your vehicle doesn’t mean that you can’t live independently and it doesn’t mean you can’t still visit family and friends, go shopping, or keep medical appointments. Most areas offer transportation solutions for older adults. Options include buses, taxis or services like Uber, community carpools, and volunteer groups. Most senior living communities also have transportation available for their residents. Your local area agency on aging can help you find out what transportation services available to you.