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Driving: When Aging Illness Makes it Difficult

By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 3)  

Many individuals  believe getting that first driver’s license a right of passage – a testament that adulthood and freedom have arrived. In light of increased scrutiny and legislation concerning older drivers, caregivers and aging patients are both starting to wonder when to continue driving, when to slow down, and when to stop driving altogether. Physicians have joined in the ranks of those who are questioning the safety of older adults behind the wheel of a car.

There are valid reasons for concern. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) states that drivers over age 75 have the highest motor vehicle fatality rate than any other driving group with the exception of drivers under 25. In addition, this same driving group has more motor vehicle accidents per miles driven than any driving group except teenagers. Finally, as age increases, drivers are less able to cope with the complex driving conditions and are more likely to be involved in multiple vehicle accidents at intersections.

Some studies have suggested that changes in the vision field can contribute to the increase in older drivers who are involved in accidents. Both visual acuity and visual depth perception are affected, resulting in lowering the overall field of view for the aging driver. Reaction time or the ability to adapt to changing driving conditions also changes with age, although some studies are unclear as to the complete effect this changing condition has on the ability of an older adult to safely drive.

Prescription medications can also have an effect on someone’s ability to drive. Seniors take more prescriptions daily than other groups, with studies estimating this number between two and seven. Some drugs interfere with hearing and someone’s ability to react to driving conditions timely enough to avoid an accident.

Family/Caregiver Responsibility:

Many family members or caregivers are understandably hesitant to tell their loved one that it’s time to cut back on driving or stop driving all together. Staying independent in the home as long as possible can keep spirits high and decrease someone’s susceptibility to depression. Still, there are some circumstances that warrant a caregiver taking steps to ensure their loved one’s safety and well-being.

One of the best ways to determine if an older driver is having problems driving is to be in the car as a passenger to observe what happens during real driving conditions. It may take several trials to get the full scope of what could happen. Driving ability could vary by the time of day, how soon a person drives after taking medication, or at night.

 

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