For many of us, driving is a key aspect of maintaining our freedom and independence as we age. That’s why so many seniors are hesitant to stop driving, even after it becomes unsafe. But it's normal for our driving abilities to change as we get older. As we age, factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, slowed motor reflexes, and worsened health conditions can become a problem. Aging also tends to result in a reduction of strength, coordination, and flexibility, which can impact the ability to safely control a car. By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, you may be able to continue driving safely long into your senior years.
Even if you find that you need to reduce your driving or give up the keys, it doesn't mean the end of your independence. Seeking alternative methods of transportation can offer health and social benefits, as well as a welcome change of pace to life. Below we have listed important age-related changes to be aware of that can make driving dangerous.
Cognition: When you drive, you need to integrate several skills at the same time, including attention, memory and visual processing. Both our judgment and speed of processing can become impaired, jeopardizing driving skills.
Hearing and Vision Loss: Regular hearing and vision check-ups are imperative since safe driving means hearing honking and emergency sirens and seeing the road and other vehicles.
Medical Conditions: ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, diabetes, head trauma, high and low blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, nervous system disorders, severe arthritis, severe elderly depression, sleep disorders, stroke effects, surgery after effects, thyroid disease and the use of medical devices including automatic defibrillators and pacemakers can make driving unsafe.
Medications: Certain medications can also reduce driving skills, including antihistamines and medications for depression, diabetes and pain reduction. Always ask your doctor how new medications will affect your driving.
Motor Function: As people age, their flexibility lessens, joints become stiffer and muscles weaken. Operating the brake and gas pedals, turning your head to view traffic and using the steering wheel can become more difficult.
We assess our health from time to time; we should assess our driving from time to time and make adjustments based on our assessment of our own driving. It is your responsibility to decide whether you are still fit enough to drive. Depending on the state you live in, some may require a doctor’s certification or vision screening after age 65/70. Currently in Alabama, you may continue to renew your license every 4 years.