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How Driving Changes with Age

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We all know that driving is directly tied to a person’s independence. Whether you’re a sixteen-year-old setting out on the road for the first time or a senior maintaining their daily routine through driving, access to a car can be very important in terms of personal freedom. Unfortunately, the ability to safely drive can change with age, so below I’ll discuss some things to keep aware of in order to help the senior in your life stay on the road longer.

Of course, everyone ages differently, so there is no official cutoff age as to when a senior should quit driving. Older people, however, are statistically more likely to receive traffic violations and get into accidents than younger drivers. Fatal crash rates also rise after drivers hit age 70. Factors like decreased vision, hearing, and slower reaction times all contribute to the higher risk of danger. Also, the natural reduction of strength, coordination, and flexibility can negatively impact the safety of not only the driver, but those around them as well.

Here are a few ways driving is naturally affected by age:

  • Stiffness or pain can make it more difficult to look over one’s shoulder when merging or changing lanes.
  • Leg or hip pain can make it harder to effectively control and move from gas to brake pedals.
  • Lack of arm strength can make it tough to turn quickly and effectively, especially in larger automobiles (it is advised to drive a car with power steering, automatic transmission, and power brakes).
  • Most importantly, and perhaps the hardest to admit to, is the decreased ability to divide attention between all the obstacles of driving: signs, lights, other cars, and pedestrians.

Make sure the person you are caring for is keeping on top of their health:

  • Make sure all glasses prescriptions (near and far) are up to date and be sure to schedule an annual appointment with an eye doctor.
  • If your loved one wears hearing aids, make sure they are always worn while behind the wheel. Warn the person wearing hearing aids that opening windows while driving can disrupt the hearing aids’ functionality.
  • Know the side effects of medications and talk to your loved one’s doctor about the ways in which ailments and their medications can influence driving.
  • Getting enough sleep is crucial to maintaining the attention needed while driving.
  • This goes for any age group, but abstain from using a cell phone or similar technology while operating a vehicle.
  • Make sure the senior in your life has a car that is not too high and not too low, because climbing in and out of a vehicle should not be difficult. Attempting to get into a vehicle that is not the correct height can lead to falls, which as we know, often have extremely negative consequences.

Lastly, if you’ve noticed your loved one has begun to show signs their driving skills aren’t what they used to be, discuss their limitations with them. Sometimes it’s necessary to change driving habits as a person gets less comfortable in certain driving situations.

  • If vision is a problem in reduced light, consider talking to them about only driving during daylight hours.
  • If traffic is a source of stress, staying off of freeways or highways and instead using surface roads can help.

Your loved one may never have been in an accident, but as they age keep in mind that driving ability does change. Be willing to discuss this issue even though it can be a source of contention and if you believe it is unsafe for your loved one to be on the road, read this article for some helpful hints on how to start the conversation.

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Max Gottlieb works with Senior Planning and ALTCS in Phoenix, Arizona. Senior Planning and ALTCS are completely free services. Both organizations provide assistance to seniors and the disabled who need help finding and arranging care services, applying for state and federal benefits, or relocating to a care home. ALTCS specifically aims to help lower income seniors secure the care they need.

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