How to keep driving (safely) into your golden years –and an assessment and class that will help

senior in car

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime.com

As people age, one of their biggest fears is the loss of independence—the inability to do what they want, where they want, when they want and how they want, on their own and without help from their children, spouse or friends. For many seniors, driving represents freedom, and the threat of taking away that privilege feels like the beginning of the end.

The truth is, as we age we do experience physical and mental changes that can impair our ability to drive. Our hearing and vision may not be as acute and some of our reflexes aren’t quite as fast as they used to be. But most seniors in general good health should be able to drive safely and confidently without putting themselves or others at risk.

Awareness is a big part of being a good driver, and AARP, the national organization that addresses the needs and concerns of the 50+ population, launched the new and improved AARP Smart Driver™ Course in January 2014 to help keep older drivers independent, safe and confident on the road.

The AARP website notes that there have been many changes to roads, cars and technology since they developed their first driver safety course, “55 Alive,” in 1979, and warns that if seniors don’t keep up with the changes they put themselves and others at risk.

Things that can negatively affect driving

  • Medications
    Medications are of concern at any age, but it takes longer for their effects to wear off as we age. They can cause blurred vision, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness or weakness. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if any of your medications, including over-the-counter and herbal supplements, could affect your driving ability.
  • Alcohol
    Remember that alcohol stays longer in an older person’s body. Alcohol is absorbed directly through an empty stomach and can reach and affect the brain within 60 seconds. Mixing alcohol with medications may be even more dangerous and have unexpected effects on your driving.
  • Loss of hearing
    Hearing may diminish with age, causing us to miss cues that alert us to situations around our vehicles, such as honking horns, engine sounds and emergency vehicles. Talk to your physician if you think you may have a problem with your hearing.
  • Problems with vision
    Reduced ability to see moving objects clearly, color blindness, cataracts, reduced ability to process visual information quickly, reduced depth perception and reduced peripheral vision can all affect our ability to drive safely. Separate glasses for day and night driving; anti-reflective coatings on eyeglasses; and reducing driving at night or when visibility is limited can help. You should have regular eye examinations by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Driving Evaluations
How do you know if you are still safe behind the wheel? Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) offers comprehensive clinical driving assessments that include:

  • Vision: acuity, visual motor skills, peripheral vision, sign recognition, color recognition/perception, visual processing speed, phoria and fusion
  • Cognition: memory, attention and problem solving
  • Sensory-motor function: strength, coordination, reaction time

The in-clinic assessment can help identify deficits and sometimes correct them through occupational therapy services. For more information, call 443-718-3000.

Safety Class
Check out the AARP Driving Resource Center for more tips on safe driving for seniors. Sign up for the AARP Driver Safety class offered in the HCGH Wellness Center, or call 410-740-7601.


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