Driving a car is considered an activity that requires great attention as well as quick reflexes. As we get older, some activities that were once very easy can become more difficult. More than just reading road signs and understanding traffic laws, some actions may become more cumbersome as we age. Actions such as turning one’s head to look for oncoming traffic can be challenging as well as driving at night. Here are some tips for senior drivers and how to stay safe when driving.
First and foremost, exercise can improve your strength and reflexes. Many people reading this may be asking, how does exercise improve driving ability? Exercise as studies have shown keeps physical reflexes quick, and the mind sharp. When you stay physically active, you are more likely to be able to turn the wheel or quickly engage the car’s brakes. Physical activities will also increase your flexibility and improve your ability to turn your head and look for oncoming traffic. Try including exercise or physical activity in your every day routine. For many seniors, walking is an easy choice that can be done anywhere at any time. Practicing stretches and strength training are also helpful. Before engaging in physical activity, we recommend that you consult your primary care provider.
Receiving regular hearing and vision tests will also tell you when those senses begin to decline as you age. Impaired hearing can prevent an older individual from hearing an emergency vehicle behind them or hearing someone honk to alert them. Age-related vision conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration, can make it difficult to see the road at night. Consult your primary care provider about how often you should schedule hearing and vision exams. Even though you may think your hearing and vision are fine, you should always follow your doctor’s recommendations.
There are of course additional health conditions that can interfere with one’s driving abilities. Consult your doctor in regards to any health conditions you may have that could affect you ability to drive and they should be able to make suggestions (i.e. diabetes, seizures, arthritis, memory issues, etc.). It is also important to be aware of the possible side effects of any medications you are currently taking. Medications that cause drowsiness or dizziness can compromise your safety as well as any other drivers or pedestrians on the road.
Consider taking a refresher course on driving. Updating your driving skills could help you considerably when you are on the road. Look for courses through local organizations or community education programs that cater to seniors. Often times there are free programs available for seniors at their senior centers free of charge.
If you plan to drive, there are a few steps you will need to take beforehand. Plan your route to your destination so that you are not trying to read a map or directions while you are driving. Those items can serve as a distraction and can break your concentration when driving. Make sure that your mind is focused on driving. If possible, locate major landmarks such as stores or schools that will help you find your way around without having to take your eyes off the road.
Another point to focus on is driving under good weather conditions. Avoid driving at night or evening and make sure that weather is bright and clear of rain or snow. Visibility is greatly affected when it is raining or snowing; delay your trip until the weather clears. If possible, plan your route around rush-hour traffic to avoid crowded streets and intersections. Lastly, do not drive when you are sleepy or upset, and this goes for everybody, never drink and drive.
Knowing your limitations may be the best way to stay safe on the road.
Consulting an occupational therapist can also help you identify any assistance devices that will make driving safer and easier. Be aware of when it is time to consider other alternatives to driving. If you are concerned about your driving skills or if relatives and friends have expressed concern, it may be time to stop driving. Keeping yourself and other safe while on the road is the number one priority of any driver.
Jacob Edward is the manager of Senior Planning in Phoenix Arizona. Jacob founded Senior Planning in 2007 and has helped many Arizona seniors and their families navigate the process of long term care planning. Senior Planning provides assistance to seniors and the disabled finding and arranging care services, as well as applying for state and federal benefits. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys dining out and supporting his alma mater Arizona State’s Sun Devil sports teams. Jacob lives in Tempe Arizona.