Understanding how aging affects driving ability

In Home Health and Hospice care, we are on the road every day making visits to our patients’ homes. Our nurses, therapists, social worker, chaplain and home care aides travel thousands of miles each year. When we are on the road, safe driving is always on our minds and a number one priority. With the warmer weather finally here again and more people out and about driving, it’s a good time to share some tips to help older adults and their families understand how aging affects driving. Keep in mind, age alone shouldn’t be the only factor when determining driving safety; changes in vision, physical fitness or reflexes also are important influences to consider.

Know how aging affects driving ?

Be aware of physical limitations and how they affect your driving. For example: neck stiffness or pain may make it more difficult to look both ways or over your shoulder when you need to change lanes. As reaction times slow down with age, you may be slower to spot vehicles or bicycles emerging from side streets and driveways, or you may not realize the car in front of you has stopped. Decreased vision or impaired hearing may also be limitations that can affect your ability to be aware and drive safely.

Keep yourself in tip top shape to drive ?

Get regular checkups every year to evaluate your overall health, vision and hearing. Talk with your health care provider to be sure you have the correct medications, eyeglass prescription and properly working hearing aid. These checkups can make a huge difference in your ability to drive safely.

Drive defensively ?

Avoid distractions while driving, such as cell phone use, GPS devices. Make sure you have adequate distance between you and the car in front of you for safe braking. Avoid driving in bad weather such as thunderstorms, hail, and snow. Plan your route ahead of time before you leave on a trip if you are going to an unfamiliar place- this helps you to avoid getting lost. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

Plan for alternate ways of meeting your transportation needs ?

Consider public transportation-they may offer senior discounted rates. Share rides with others such as family, friends or neighbors. Consider use of taxis or a private driver that is responsible and has a good driving record. If health allows, consider walking or biking when the weather permits. This also may benefit your overall health and well-being.

Consider the benefits of not driving ? When you don’t drive a car, you can save money on the cost of car ownership and use such as maintenance, gas, insurance, registration fees. You may improve your health if you increase your physical exercise by walking or biking to your destination. You may meet more people and increase your circle of friends if you share rides or use public transportation instead of driving alone.

Families- How to talk to your Older Driver about driving concerns

Be respectful; remember driving is an important part of being independent. Give specific examples such as “I noticed it’s harder for you to turn your head when looking over your shoulder or looking both ways at the intersection.” “Dad, remember when you hit the gas pedal instead of the brake the last time we drove together.”

As we kick off the summer with this upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, remember to drive safe and buckle up. If you have questions, talk to your health care provider or call Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health and Hospice. More information is available at www.michigan.gov/documents/Older_Driver2_38985_7.pdf.

Editor’s note: Gladys Polzien is the Director of Operations at Aspirus.