For many older adults, driving can be a difficult and potentially dangerous task. Drivers over the age of eighty-five are at a higher risk for car accidents than any other age group. Elderly people with poor vision and dementia are an increased risk of auto-accidents and accident- related injuries to themselves and others. |
In addition to worsening eyesight in general, the ability of the eyes to adapt to changes in the amount of light in the environment is delayed. On a dark road, where headlights may appear suddenly, the ability for the pupils to adjust to sudden changes in lighting is impaired.
Older adults also have a harder time discriminating between different surfaces. This could cause a problem if you are unable to see the puddle on the road or the gravel on the shoulder of a highway.
Many older adults also suffer from cataracts, which develop in 95% of people older than eighty-five. Cataracts result in clouding of the lens of the eye, which decreases vision and increases glare, making driving at night more difficult. Age-related macular degeneration is another eye disorder that effects many elderly people.
Changes in brain function Driving in traffic requires apart from the ability to see the road and other cars, you see trees. Clouds and other people walking. You need to be able to follow all theses objects simultaneously to determine which ones are potential problems or dangers. When we age, the coordination and reaction time decrease. For people with dementia following directions, judging the distance between objects and processing new information is even more difficult. Think about how dangerous it would be if you could not react to a child running out into the street or a truck running through a stop sign to your right. This is one of the reason people with dementia should not be driving at all.
Medical problems Many medical problems make it hard for seniors to drive because it increases the risk of getting into a serious car accident. Seizures, diabetes, abnormal heart rhythms, and arthritis in neck and shoulders may also cause problems for older adults.
A warning: talk to a patient's doctor whether it is safe to drive after any of the following conditions: * low blood sugar * narcolepsy (sleep attacks) * recent heart attack * recent stroke * seizures * syncope (passing out)
Evaluating your ability to drive Families often go to the doctor with concern about whether their loved one can still safely drive. In many cases, what the doctor faces a patient who is adamant about driving and a family who is desperately pleading the person to turn in the keys to the car. Trying to assess an older person to drive is very difficult for a doctor in the hospital or office setting. Many doctors don't really know how to evaluate a senior's ability to drive. Others will not have the time or resources available. Even the experts do not agree as to the best way to evaluate driving safety for seniors.
Elderly people with poor vision and dementia urgently need to be identified as they are at an increased risk of auto accidents and accident-related injuries to themselves and others.
Driving Evaluation Driving safety can be tested in a number of ways. There are computer programs that can test a person's ability to see a variety of images. There are even simulation machines that resemble video games. However, the best way to evaluate driving ability is in an actual car.
Passing a driving test does not guarantee save driving. If memory loss gets worse, for example, driving must stop. An acute illness may make the patient too frail to drive.
Things a senior can do to be a safer driver Start with a vision checkup. Cataracts can be removed and new lenses implanted. Medications, like benzodiazepines, that can make one groggy need to be stopped. Seats and mirrors can be adjusted to help compensate for limitations of movement in the neck. An occupational therapist can often be of assistance with these adjustments. By avoiding driving at night, in bad weather, or on busy roads, senior can further minimize their risk of an accident.
Don't be eager to take away someone's driving privileges! The decision to stop driving is in issue of paramount importance in the lives of many older adults. We all know that this is a very important privilege. Many elderly are already trying to adjust to the changes that occur with retirement and increased frailty. Many are no longer working and do not live near family and friends. Without the ability to drive, senior can lose their independence, dignity and autonomy. Without a car, they may have less access to healthcare, food, social activities, and so on. Some seniors don't want to stop driving since they are afraid of becoming a "bigger burden" on their families.
The time to talk about driving is now! There comes a time when seniors need to stop driving and consider their safety and the safety of others. Regular reassessment of driving ability is very important. Consider both sides of the situation, including the isolation if a senior cannot connect with friends.
Many families find it difficult to discuss this topic with their loved ones. The Hartford and MIT issued an online booklet that gives suggestions and discuss this difficult topic. It also discusses alternative transportation options as well, and gives hints on how to comfortably discuss this topic with the older adult in your life.
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