EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 15, 2012

Elder Q&A: Aging may impact driving abilities

Roseanne DiStefano Elder Q&A
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Q: Again this week there was a segment on the evening news about older drivers and taking away the keys. Just because I am of a certain age (75 years old) shouldn’t automatically mean I am unsafe behind the wheel of a car. Is there any information available to help seniors remain independent and continue driving?

A: Actually most older drivers are usually safe and conscientious. You are absolutely correct age alone should not be the defining factor on whether or not someone should maintain their legal right to operate a motor vehicle. It is predicted by the year 2030 one in four drivers will be over the age of 65. This is an issue that should be addressed in a positive way to enable older adults to maintain their independence as long as possible.

As a person ages , decline in vision, cognitive functioning and physical changes may impact a person’s driving abilities.

For these reasons it is important for all older adults to routinely do a self-assessment of their health condition, seek appropriate treatment and make adjustments in their driving habits. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has clear recommendations for older drivers, many of which also apply to younger drivers as well. Always use seat belts, this is not only common sense and a safety factor but also the law in many states. It is suggested to limit driving during bad weather and at night. Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility. Review all medications (prescribed and over the counter) with your pharmacist/physician to determine if any of the drugs could create side effects which would impact your driving abilities. Have an annual eye examination and wear glasses or corrective lenses as indicated. Pay attention to any hearing losses and address this issue if it arises.

Avoid distractions while driving such as the radio being turned up too high, using a cell phone or eating and drinking. If you often have young grandchildren in the car make sure they are secured in their seats and do not become animated to the point of causing you to take your eyes off the road. Think about the route you are going to take to reach your destination, the fastest way may not be the safest if the traffic is unusually heavy or the road is not well maintained.

In the last few years numerous organizations have been devoting resources to assist older drivers. These may not be available in all parts of the country but it is definitely worth the time and effort to find out what may be available to you where you currently reside.

Inquire through your health provider to see if they have a contract with a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist. This information is also available at the American Occupational Therapy Association. AARP sponsors review courses in select locations. On-line resources can be accessed by anyone who has internet connection.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at www.nhtsa.dot.gov. promotes “Safe Driving for Older Adults”. Another recommendation is the “Drive Well” program through the American Society on Aging www.asaging.org.

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If you have a question direct to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.