To Drive Or Not To Drive?

What if you are doing all you can to be a safe driver and still wonder if you should stop driving? This is a difficult decision. There are questions to ask yourself:

  • Do other drivers often honk at you?
  • Have you had some accidents, even "fender benders"?
  • Are you getting lost, even on well-known roads?
  • Do cars or pedestrians seem to appear out of nowhere?
  • Have family, friends, or your doctor said they were worried about your driving?
  • Do you drive less because you are not as confident about your ability as you once were?

If you answered yes to any of these, you probably should think seriously about whether or not you are still a safe driver.

HOW DOES AGE AFFECT DRIVING

Changes in our bodies

As you age, your joints may stiffen, and muscles weaken. Turning your head to look back or steering and braking the car may become hard to do. Movements are slower and may not be as accurate. Your senses of smell, hearing, sight, touch, and taste might grow weaker.

Vision, being able to see, is a vital part of driving, but age brings changes in the lens of the eye. Eyes need more light in order to see and are more sensitive to glare. Your ability to see things on the edge of the viewing area, peripheral vision, narrows. Vision problems include cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.

  • Cataracts: In cataracts the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, causing problems with the ability to see.
  • Macular Degeneration : A breakdown of material inside the eye that leads to a loss of vision in the central part of the viewing area.
  • Glaucoma: The rise in pressure inside the eye that develops in glaucoma may limit the ability to see things on the edge of the viewing area.

Changes in the way you think

You probably know your body may change with age. You may not be aware of changes in the way your mind works as you age. Some of you find your reflexes are slower. Or, you may have trouble keeping your attention fixed on one situation. You may have a hard time doing two things at once -- something you have to do to drive safely. When you drive, you have to take in new information from many sources and then react. Some of you react more slowly when you find yourself in a new situation.

These are all normal changes in how your brain works as you age. There are, however, two forms of mental problems that can also affect your ability to drive.

  • Depression, being "down in the dumps" for a long time, may happen to many older people, but it is not normal. It can, and should, be treated. The attention and sleep problems depressed people of any age sometimes suffer can interfere with safe driving. So can the medicine sometimes used to treat depression.

  • Dementia causes serious memory, personality, and behavioral problems that the person often cannot recognize. Someone with dementia may at first remember how to operate an automobile and how to travel to familiar places. However, at some point as the disease progresses, their driving abilities do become impaired. Unfortunately, people with dementia often cannot recognize when they should no longer drive.

Health problems

Other illnesses common among older people can affect your ability to drive safely. For example, having arthritis, Parkinson's disease, or stroke, makes it harder to handle a car safely. Sleep problems or fainting make you less alert at an age when you may already have a hard time focusing your attention. If you have an automatic defibrillator or pacemaker, your doctor might suggest that you stop driving. There is a chance that the device might cause an irregular heartbeat or dizziness while driving. Diabetes may cause nerve damage in your hands, legs, or eyes. The eye damage in diabetes is known as diabetic retinopathy. If you also have trouble controlling your blood sugar level and might be in danger of losing consciousness, you should think about giving up your license.

Medications

Older Americans take more prescription medicines than any other age group. They often have one or more long-term illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease and may be taking several different drugs. Their bodies may be more sensitive to the effects of medicine on their central nervous systems. The older body may not use up (metabolize) a drug as quickly as a younger body does, so the drug can be active in them for a longer time. Sometimes a combination of medicines increases the effects of each drug on the body.


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