Planning Down the Road: How aging can affect driving and what to do about it
You’ve been driving for years! You’re probably one of the most experienced people on the road… but there’s no denying it, aging can affect our ability to drive safely.
We all know our bodies change as we age, what many people don’t realize is these changes can affect our ability to drive. This means we may have to make some changes to stay on the road for as long as possible… and as safely as possible.
The challenge? Every person and their aging process is different, so there is no one age to stop driving.
So what changes might be affecting my driving abilities?
- LIGHT: We need more light and time to see clearly as we age – this makes driving at night much trickier.
- GLARE: Our eyes become more sensitive to glare. That’s why headlights and sunlight can be uncomfortable to look at.
- PERIPHERAL VISION: Our ability to see what’s to the side while looking ahead (peripheral vision) narrows, so we see less of what is around us.
- Hearing loss can make it harder to hear horns, sirens or other noises on the road.
- Stiff joints, decreased strength and increased pain can affect our ability to look around, manipulate the pedals, shift gears and even use the steering wheel.
- Mind the gap! Our ability to judge the distance between vehicles can worsen. This makes maneuvers like turning left difficult.
- Attention span shortens as we age… which makes it harder to do two things at once.
- We can become overwhelmed easier when many things are happening at once - like at intersections.
- The time it takes our brain to process information slows as we get older. This affects our reaction time.
- Then when we do react, we’re physically slower than when we were younger.
Medical conditions and their prescribed medications can also affect our driving
- Dementia e.g. Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Eye disease: glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration
- Over the counter medications that cause drowsiness like cold and allergy medication.
- Some prescription medication for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, heart disease and muscle spasms
Okay, so what can I do to stay safe?
Pay attention! That’s right, the most important thing we can do is pay attention to these changes and make adjustments. You can:
Change your driving
- Decrease or eliminate night driving if it becomes difficult to see
- Avoid rush hour or busy intersections
- Decrease distractions
- Leave at least a 4 second gap between you and the car ahead
- Adjust your mirrors to enable you to see what is behind your vehicle.
- Wear anti glare glasses when you do drive at night
- Get your vision tested regularly and discuss driving with your eye doctor
- Take driving lessons to sharpen your skills
- Sign up for a yoga class to help with flexibility
- Stiff or swollen joints? Talk to a doctor or occupational therapist
- Ask your pharmacist if your medications affect your driving
- If you have a medical condition, ask your doctor if it can affect driving
Ok, I think I may need more help. Now what?
There’s no harm in reaching out to a professional to discuss your concerns. The earlier, the better! You can:
- Get assessed by a certified driving instructor
- Talk to your doctor
- Be preemptive. Talk to your doctor or family if you have a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. This way you can put a plan in place for the future.
Aging can be a pain (figuratively and let’s face it, literally too!!). So thinking about changes early and coming up with a plan will help you and everyone else on the road, stay safe.