Vision: Your vision is tested when you renew your driver’s licence to make sure it meets driving standards. If you are having any of these problems, see your doctor.
Gradual changes in vision as we age may lead to problems:
- Seeing less clearly (especially at night or at dusk and dawn)
- Judging distance
- Being more sensitive to glare (such as rain and light on the windshield)
Remember, you need to turn your head or body to check your blind spot and to see what is around you.
Medical conditions can also affect vision. By age 75, almost half of us will have early cataracts, and about one in four will have advanced cataract disease. Cataracts are like having a waterfall in front of your eyes, and can seriously affect your ability to drive. The good news is the problem can now be easily corrected.
Other eye disorders that can lead to reduced vision or even blindness are glaucoma and macular degeneration (loss of sharp central vision). Glaucoma, if detected early, can be effectively treated, in most cases. There are new and effective treatments for many people with macular degeneration. Regular eye exams can pick up these problems.
By age 65, one-third of us have some hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss increases with age. Medical problems (such as tinnitus or ringing in the ears and infections) can also impair hearing. Regular hearing exams can pick up these problems. The good news is that better hearing aids are being developed all the time. Hearing loss affects one’s ability to hear horns, sirens and brakes. You may also have to rely on your vision more to compensate for hearing loss.
Flexibility, Movement and Strength
As we age, we often have more stiffness and less range of movement in our neck, shoulders, arms and trunk. Flexibility affects our ability to:
- Check your blind spot
- Look for traffic and pedestrians at intersections
- Merge with oncoming traffic
- Yield the right of way, back up and park
Many people develop some arthritis with age. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects the body’s joints causing swelling and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is less common, but more painful. Both forms of arthritis can restrict movement. Osteoporosis (bone disease) also makes moving more difficult and painful.
Similar to flexibility or movement, strength also tends to decrease with age, especially if people are not physically active.
Arm strength is important for the safe control of your steering wheel, particularly when you have to make quick or sudden movements. Leg strength is important for pressing your acceleration and brake pedals, especially when quick actions are required.
|The good news is flexibility, strength and reaction time can be improved with regular exercise.|
Reaction Time and Concentration
With age, we may also experience gradual changes in:
- Reaction or response time (slower)
- Concentration (more easily distracted), and
- Coordination (poorer)
Medical problems such as Parkinson’s and stroke can have substantial effects on reaction time, concentration and coordination.
When you have a choice, it is always a good idea to avoid traffic situations that are fast paced.
The Possible Effects of Drugs on Driving
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating and staying awake
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty keeping a steady course (staying in the proper lane)
If you have any of these symptoms, you should not drive. Wait until you feel better, take a taxi or get someone to drive you. If you develop any of these side effects while driving, pull over and rest. Tell your doctor.
Certain drugs (such as tranquillizers, anti-depressants, sleeping pills and some pain pills) are most likely to cause the above symptoms and affect driving ability. Some antihistamines (for allergies and hay fever) as well as colds and flu remedies can also cause you to become drowsy.
Not only prescription medicines, but products you can buy off the shelf (like “natural” or “herbal” remedies), can have side effects. These over-the-counter drugs can also interact with, or change, the effects of any prescription drugs you are taking.
Always carefully read the warning labels! If you are not sure, ask the pharmacist.
Older Adults Need to be Very Careful. Why?
- Older adults tend to take more drugs
- The risk of side effects and interactions increase with the number of drugs taken
- With age, our bodies react differently. It takes longer for the body to break down or get rid of a drug
- This is also true of alcohol. While people tend to drink less alcohol as they get older, it takes fewer drinks to impair our driving. Alcohol, mixed with certain drugs, can be very dangerous
- Other factors, such as medical problems, can alter the body’s response to alcohol and certain drugs
Discuss the possible effects of each medication you are taking (both prescription and non-prescription) with your doctor. Ask if the drug can have any possible effects on your driving.
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