Elderly care: Understand how ageing affects driving

by Clive
September 9, 2014

senior_driving_225[1]Everyone ages differently so there is no set cut-off age for older people to stop driving. But if you’re involved in elderly care, you should note that older people are more likely to receive traffic citations and have accidents than younger drivers.

In fact, fatal crash rates rise steeply from 70 years and older.

Elderly care tip: Observe and monitor older drivers for these risky behaviours

As we age, our eyesight and hearing deteriorates and our motor reflexes slow down substantially. You may also have a chronic condition that gradually worsens with time, or you may have to adjust to a sudden change in lifestyle after a stroke.

Ageing also reduces muscle strength, coordination and flexibility, which can have a major impact on your ability to safely control a car.

Other factors include:

  • Pain or stiffness in your neck can make it harder to look over your shoulder to change lanes or look left and right at intersections to check for oncoming traffic or pedestrians.
  • Leg pain can make it difficult to move your foot from the petrol to the brake pedal quickly.
  • Diminished arm strength can make it hard to turn the steering wheel fast enough.
  • Keeping track of so many road signs, signals, and markings, as well as all the other traffic and pedestrians, can also become more difficult as we lose the ability to effectively divide our attention between multiple activities.

You may have driven your entire life, and take great pride in your safety record. But as you get older, it’s critical you realise your driving ability can change.

Know the warning signs of unsafe driving for those in elderly care

Sometimes warning signs can arise gradually, or a recent change in health may hasten the problem. Even if the individual warning signs seem minor, together they can add up to a substantial risk. If you are concerned about your own driving or concerned about a friend or loved one, keep an eye out for these warning signs:

Issues with health

Health problems don’t always mean that driving needs to be stopped, but they do require extra vigilance, awareness, and willingness to correct them. Some health problems include:

Conflicting Medications.

Certain medications or combinations of medications can affect senses and reflexes. Always check the label on medications and double check with your healthcare team if you are taking several medications or notice a difference after starting a new medication.

Eyesight problems.

Some eye conditions or medications can interfere with your ability to focus your peripheral vision, or cause you to experience extra sensitivity to light, trouble seeing in the dark, or blurred vision. Can you easily see traffic lights and street signs? Or do you find yourself driving closer and closer, slowing by the sign to see it? Can you react appropriately to drivers coming from the back or on the side?

Hearing problems.

If your hearing is decreasing, you may not realise you’re missing out on important cues to drive safely. Can you hear emergency sirens, or if someone is accelerating next to you or hooting?

Problems with reflexes and range of motion.

Can you react quickly enough if you need to brake suddenly or quickly look back? Have you confused the gas and brake pedals? Do you find yourself getting more flustered while driving, or quick to anger? Is it comfortable to look back over your shoulder or does it take extra effort?

Problems with memory.

Do you find yourself missing exits that used to be second nature, or find yourself getting lost frequently? While everyone has an occasional lapse, if there’s a pattern that is increasing, it’s time to get evaluated by a doctor.

Don’t risk your life and that of others. Rather stop driving if you’re not confident in your driving. There are other ways you can remain independent.

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