The phrase, “driving is a privilege,” takes on new meaning as you age. This stern conversation is usually had with teenagers first getting their license as parents fear they may speed or be careless on the road. Older drivers, however, should focus on a set of concerns all their own as they pass retirement age.
How health impacts driving ability
Driving a vehicle requires a range of motor skills and mental clarity. And for many seniors, these skills can be compromised with age. To keep the abilities for safe driving sharp, independent living seniors should continue having regular check-ups with their doctors. Vision, of course, is critical for safe driving, and having both close-up and distance vision tested regularly is necessary for best driving practices. Regular visits can help determine cognitive health issues in addition to concerns related to stress management such as blood pressure and anxiety as well, both of which are areas that could affect safe driving. These visits can also help to determine any other underlying health issues not directly attributed to aging that may lead to impairment in vision, temperament, and memory. Any changes in these health areas can lead to poor driving and can be fatal for those behind the wheel and others on the road.
Warning signs seniors should look out for
Through regular visits to a doctor can help independent living seniors stay up to date on their health, there are small warning signs that should be taken into consideration that seniors can observe on their own time. These warning signs aren’t necessarily indicators that a larger issue is looming, but they can help independent living seniors determine whether or not they would be able to operate a vehicle safely. Seniors should take extra care on the road or avoid driving if any of the following ailments occur:
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Body pain or stiffness in areas such as the neck, hands, or legs – any of which can make it difficult to maneuver a steering wheel, observe traffic properly or operate pedals
- Frequent forgetfulness
- Delayed reactions or general loss of energy
Of course, one-off instances of forgetfulness or pain are common, but if these problems persist, it’s important to speak with a primary care physician to monitor their severity.
How family members can help assess their driving capabilities
It’s never easy to have tough conversations with aging parents and relatives, but family members should take equal responsibility, when possible, for ensuring their loved one’s capabilities when it comes to driving as well. Outside of the warning signs mentioned previously, family members or friends should also be prepared to talk to their parents, grandparents, or loved ones about the dangers of impaired driving. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has put together a great resource for families having these conversations in observance of this year’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. Some of these talking points include how to have these conversations in a non-threatening manner and within a safe environment. Another important tip from AOTA is to have these conversations early instead of waiting for an incident to occur. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommends family members lookout for a few warning signs that their elderly loved ones may be prone to impaired driving. These warning signs can include that their elderly relative got lost on a familiar route, received a ticket or warning for a driving violation, and dents and scratches on their relative’s car with no explanation. As always, it’s crucial for families to have patience and a bit of grace when having these difficult conversations with independent living seniors and to provide a safe space for a healthy discussion rooted in understanding and support.
Quick tips to keep independent living seniors safe on the road
Growing older doesn’t mean that your driving days are over. And though safety precautions should be taken at any age, these tips, in particular, can help any independent living senior stay as safe as possible while driving.
- Seniors should try to avoid taking any medications prior to driving – especially any that may cause drowsiness
- Similarly, manage all medications properly and ensure all are being taken consistently and as prescribed
- Avoid traveling in poor weather
- Keep a safe distance between other vehicles on the road
- Plan to drive or travel during daylight hours
- If driving in the evening is necessary, avoid looking directly into approaching headlights
- If you’ve been advised to limit driving, be respectful of your new driving guidelines