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Prevention Presents: Seniors & Safe Driving

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Seniors & Safe Driving 
Carrie Dowling, OCPC, LCDCIII, CTTS
Assistant Manager, Prevention Education

Growing older is a natural and wonderful part of life. Along with the positive side of having the knowledge and wisdom from life lessons also comes physical, mental and sensory changes that can make driving challenging or even impossible.

It is important to recognize for yourself if you feel as though driving may be becoming increasingly difficult. It may be necessary to change your driving habits or turn in the keys altogether. Listen to family members if they express concerns about you being behind the wheel. An occupational therapist may be able to evaluate one’s ability to safely operate a vehicle or provide any rehabilitation that may be needed. Seniors have a unique set of needs compared to others, and a therapist may help certain individuals. Individuals age at different rates and may be affected by certain aspects of aging differently than their peers.

The good news, though, is that there are many ways seniors can keep their bodies and minds sharp to continue to drive safely:

  • Stay physically active - It is so important that seniors stay active and find some form of exercise that they enjoy, whether it’s walking, stretching, group classes, chair exercises, or light resistance training. Having a partner to exercise with may help with sticking to a routine. Always check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy for exercise, especially if it something new for you.
  • Schedule regular vision and hearing tests - Your five senses tend to weaken with age, and your vision is among the first to be affected. Eye problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration can make seeing clearly difficult and create problems driving at night.
  • Manage your chronic conditions - A history of seizures or diabetes can create problems while driving. Know what medication you are taking for any condition you have, and be aware of its side effects such a drowsiness. Always keep a list of your medications with you and the names/numbers of your doctors in case of an emergency.
  • Recognize and understand your limitations - Make sure you have a comfortable steering wheel for gripping and keep all car setting conducive for your driving. Also, drive a vehicle that you can maneuver easily and that fits you.
  • Drive under optimal conditions - You may want to consider staying off the road when it is snowing, raining, or foggy. Also, consider the mood you are in. If you are upset or irritated, it may be best to delay getting behind the wheel.
  • Have a plan - Know the route you will be taking and if you might be running into any construction. If possible, plan your trips around school bus pick up and drop off, as it can be frustrating and may delay your trip. Get driving directions ready if needed and avoid distractions such as eating, loud music and the use of a cell phone.
  • Keep your driving skills sharp - You may consider taking a driving refresher course. Your local Senior Center or Area Office on Aging may have resources.

As Seniors want to maintain their independence by continuing to drive, it is very important to recognize when it may be time to give up the keys. Giving up your driving privileges does not mean a loss of independence, though. Van services and public transportation are available. The important thing it to make sure you stay safe.

For more information on seniors and safe driving, check out the following websites:
Older Driver Safety Awareness Week - AAA
Older Driver Safety Awareness Week - American Occupational Therapy Association 
7 Tips for Older Drivers - Mayo Clinic
Driving Safer, Longer - Pathway Rehab Services



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