Whether it’s a quick trip to the grocery or to pick up a prescription refill, having the freedom to drive is something we all take for granted. But what happens when we get older, and those spontaneous trips begin to pose risks we haven’t considered? 

Suddenly a rainy night becomes much more treacherous, and a quick trip could result in an accident with injuries requiring months of recovery. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure this won’t happen to you or those you love. 

What Every Senior Needs to Know About Driving

Despite having decades of experience, there are some things seniors may not know when it comes to driving. Specifically, health issues can arise over time, making driving more difficult for many of a certain age. 

Eyes on the Road

Being able to see clearly is essential. But changes in one’s vision or the emergence of an eye disease can have a serious impact, sometimes before you even realize it. 

Many seniors develop cataracts, where the clear lenses of the eyes cloud over. Others may experience macular degeneration, where the central part of their field of vision deteriorates while the areas around the edges remain intact. Glaucoma, where increased eye pressure impacts the optic nerve, can lead to eye damage and eventual blindness. What’s more, the most common form of glaucoma may have few or even no noticeable symptoms.

The good news is there are established treatments that can help with these conditions. Early detection is key to ensuring the best possible outcome. 

Seniors should schedule regular eye exams with their ophthalmologist or optometrist to have their eye health checked. For those who wear glasses or contacts, this is also a perfect opportunity to make sure they are the proper prescription.

Can You Hear Me Now?

You may not think there’s much to listen to while driving, other than the radio or a fellow passenger. However, whether it’s sirens from emergency vehicles, honking horns to warn of potential trouble, or the sound of your tire thumping because it’s going flat, these are all important noises you won’t want to miss. 

Also, hearing issues are much more prevalent than many realize. According to the National Institute on Aging, nearly one-third of U.S. seniors aged 65 to 74 have hearing loss, and almost half of those over 75 have hearing trouble. 

That’s why having your hearing tested regularly is so important. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this should be done at least every three years once you turn fifty. And, if hearing aids are necessary, then be sure to use them while driving and keep other noises to a minimum.

Motor Skills & Mobility

If you’ve ever woken up with a stiff neck and then driven, you know how uncomfortable it is to look over your shoulder to check for other cars. What if you had a more chronic condition that restricted your movements? Many elderly drivers experience a variety of health issues that impact their mobility.

Seniors also tend to lose strength and the ability to respond quickly to external events, both of which are needed while operating a vehicle. One of the best ways to counter this is by being physically active. Not only will it help to maintain muscle mass, but it will also help with mental fitness.

Another painful truth of aging is that we lose height over time. Thankfully, modern vehicles make it very easy to adjust our seat positions in order to still see clearly and have access to the controls we need.

Monitor Medications

While seniors may read the warning labels on new medications, there’s a vital area they will not cover. And that’s how the new medication(s) may interact with any existing prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs the senior is taking. It’s essential to consult with a physician or pharmacist regarding how these medications could affect each other and any potential side effects they may have. 

Seniors should watch out for dizziness, fainting, fatigue, or anything else that could impair their ability to focus or maintain control behind the wheel. If a prescription is causing troubling side effects, alert your doctor and ask if a different medication is available.

Tips for Seniors for Safe Driving

For seniors who are up-to-date on their checkups and want tips on driving safety, here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Plan your outings during the day – Try to schedule appointments, get-togethers, and errands during daylight hours. Avoid driving at dusk and at night, when headlights can disrupt your vision. Keep in mind when daylight savings time begins and ends so you can adjust your schedule accordingly. 
  • Don’t drive in inclement weather – Seniors have reduced response times in the best of conditions. Don’t put your abilities to the test. If you have to go out before the weather clears, arrange for alternate transportation instead.  
  • Avoid Distractions Do not try to eat, drink, text, or answer your cell phone while driving. If you need to do any of these things, find a safe place and pull over first.  
  • Avoid Alcohol It may be tempting to have a single drink, but its impact could be devastating. The way your body metabolizes alcohol changes as you grow older. Let someone else drive or wait and partake after you return home.  
  • Select the Best Routes When possible, use routes that avoid highway on-ramps. Also, rather than turning left on busy city streets, go up a block and make three right turns instead. 

Ride Service for Seniors

There are times when seniors will not want to drive. For example, after having blood work done, seniors may feel frightened about getting behind the wheel. That’s why having alternative transportation options available is so important.

Thankfully, many Medicare Advantage plans offer transportation benefits as part of their coverage. Depending upon the plan, you could receive anywhere from a dozen to an unlimited number of rides each year. And these may include trips to physician appointments, pharmacies, lab tests, physical therapy appointments, even health club facilities, and more! 

ITNAmerica is another growing resource, currently helping those 60 and over across ten states. It‘s a non-profit, community-based program where drivers for senior citizens may be scheduled 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rates vary by location, and many of the drivers are community volunteers who can assist seniors door-to-door.

Public transportation and services like Uber and Lyft are also options for seniors in need of rides. Since every community is different, a great place to begin is with the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to see which options are available.

Whether you want transportation assistance now, or down the road, take a little time to figure out what will work best for you. This way it will be ready for you when you need it.