Senior Drivers

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The natural process of aging can affect your vision, hearing, reaction time and mental fitness. And that means it also can affect your driving abilities and even increase risk of a traffic crash. Since these changes can occur very slowly, you’ll want to evaluate them early and often – before putting yourself and others at risk.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up an active lifestyle, though. Dealing with these changes and adhering to a few simple guidelines can make you a wiser senior driver.

Reaction Time:

Driving is a complex and fast paced activity requiring you to sense, decide and act to a given situation.

  • Reaction Time depends on your ability to process information in the driving environment. (Sense)
  • Then to use that information to choose an action. (Decide)
  • React based on your decision. (Act)

To help manage slower reaction times:

  • Increase your following distance
  • Minimize left turns
  • Eliminate distractions inside the vehicle
  • Try to steer clear of busy highways and congested traffic
  • Review your medications
  • Stay awake and alert

A driver’s eyesight is critical in preventing car crashes, because nearly all the sensory input you need to drive a car comes from visual cues. If your eyesight is diminished, so is your ability to drive safely.

Night Driving and Managing Glare. Driving at night presents challenges for all drivers. Senior drivers can face substantially increased risk, because of decreased visual distance and sensitivity to the contrast between darkness and bright lights along the roadway. Some recommendations:

  • Adjust your speed to the reach of your headlights
  • Keep your eyes moving
  • Look at the sides of objects
  • Protect your eyes from glare
  • Avoid being blinded by oncoming high beams

Hearing Loss:

According to the National Institutes of Health, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Roughly one-third of Americans over age 65 have it.

Aging is the most common cause of hearing loss, which usually becomes more noticeable after age 50. Also, men tend to be affected more often than women.

Symptoms of age-related hearing loss can include:

  • Difficulty hearing things in noisy areas.
  • Difficulty distinguishing high-pitched sounds from one another.
  • More difficulty hearing men’s voices than women’s voices.
  • Voices sound mumbled or slurred.
  • Ringing sounds in the ears.

Hearing loss can be dangerous. The inability to hear high-pitched tones, such as sirens from emergency response vehicles, especially among background noise like horns or railroad warnings, can put you and other road users at risk.

Mental Fitness:

Even if you have excellent judgment while driving, it may be challenging at times to integrate information from several sources at once. This can slow reaction time and create dangerous situations. It’s also possible that pain or stiffness in muscles or joints could make it difficult to react quickly during emergencies. A combination of treating the cause and changing driving habits can help you drive more safely.

If not managed properly, medical conditions can increase your crash risk. Some of the most common conditions known to affect safe driving are impaired vision, physical limitations, dementia, diabetes, seizures and sleep disorders. Even if you have one or more of these conditions, if you work closely with your doctor, you often can safely get behind the wheel.

Increased use of prescription and over-the-counter medications to treat temporary or chronic medical conditions also is common as you age. Some medications or combinations of medications can impact your ability to drive safely. Because of this, some states have made it illegal to drive while impaired by medications and other drugs.

Knowing the facts, understanding the risks and seeking help to properly manage your health will keep you safely behind the wheel and out of legal trouble.

As you get older, your brain needs more time to process information, making it more difficult to ignore distractions. The good news is that mature judgment, years of driving experience and good driving habits often can compensate for some diminished cognitive abilities.

Cognition is the ability to remember information like locations or destinations and recognize and respond to things such as traffic signs and pavement markings. When driving, it involves being able to focus and make sound decisions in a hurry to avoid a crash.

Learn more about severe cognitive impairments and how driving can be affected. Also, learn how to prevent aging-related cognitive decline by getting plenty of physical exercise and keeping your mind active.

Senior Driving