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Driving Tips for Senior Adults
Whether you travel daily or enjoy getting out for a weekend ride, driving is one of the more treasured ways older adults get around and participate in their favorite activities. It's also a lifeline for many to get food, see their doctor, and connect with friends.
How does aging affect driving? It can have a significant impact, making it important to consider new driving challenges as you age. These tips can help you drive safely in your later years.
1. Stay active
What does physical activity have to do with driving? More than you may think. Not only do you need strength to do things like hold the steering wheel on a bumpy road and press the brakes in a hurry, but you also need the flexibility to turn your head to check for traffic or back out of a driveway.
By prioritizing physical fitness in your daily life, you can ensure many more years of driving. Go for a walk, do light stretches, or engage in aerobics classes designed for adults your age. Just check with your physician before starting any new program.
2. Brush up on driving skills
Even if you don't need to renew your driver's license for a few years, consider taking classes specifically for seniors to help you stay road-ready. These courses are centered on safe driving and may even reduce your car insurance rates. Check with your local office on aging or the community center for options. Your DMV may provide resources, too.
Senior citizen driving license rules may vary by state. Know when you need to renew and what tests you need to pass before continuing your driving journey. Also, make sure to plan for your next DMV visit so you don't feel rushed or nervous.
3. Put your phone away
Distracted driving is dangerous for everyone, not just older drivers, so put your phone away. Or, if you use it for GPS or other travel services, learn how to put the app into "driving mode" so you can still access the information without having to touch it en route to your destination. Most phones also have auto-responders that send texts to callers that you're driving and will call them back later.
4. Check your eyes and ears
When was the last time you had a hearing or vision test? If possible, these should be an annual exam, and many Medicare Advantage plans offer coverage for these services. If your vision is impaired, either due to an outdated eyeglass prescription or something more serious (like macular degeneration), your driving will be impaired, too. Also, a hearing test will help to ensure you can hear police or rescue sirens, trains, and other drivers' horns in an emergency.
Note that some vision problems may keep you from driving at night but still allow you to drive in daylight hours. Talk to your doctor about how a new diagnosis will affect your driving routine.
5. Know your meds
Do you know which of your medications can make you sleepy, nervous, or dizzy? Even if you have taken the same prescriptions for years, they can cause sudden and different side effects as you age, especially when combined with new medications.
Always read the labels of your prescriptions to see which ones may make driving difficult, and note any changes you may experience when taking new meds. If you aren't sure how a new prescription may affect you, give it some time (up to a week) to see if it could impact your driving. Ask your pharmacist how a new medication could affect driving, because they can recommend taking it at a time when it's less likely to interfere, if applicable.
6. Drive under the best conditions
It's OK to admit that it's harder to drive at night, on a busy freeway, or when the rain is pouring down. This isn't limited to older adults, either! Many drivers find some situations more intimidating and avoid them when possible.
If you are getting to a point where you are fine driving down the street to the store in daylight, then plan for that specific drive. Even if you decide to avoid an icy road in a neighborhood you don't know, you can still consider yourself an active driver.
Likewise, when you aren't feeling your best, consider skipping driving that day. Take hints from your body when you're overtired or feeling "off" and vow to get a ride during those occasions. Driving isn't an all-or-nothing way of life. If it doesn't make sense to get behind the wheel, don't force it.
7. Consider driving tools
You may be fit and sound of mind and still find driving tiring or painful. This is where an occupational therapist may be able to help. They can look at how you hold your steering wheel or use the gear shifter and provide recommendations for accessories that make it easier. These accessories, like special mirrors, can help you see behind you better. There are also seat cushions to help you sit taller in your seat.
Improving your driving safety may be as simple as having a larger speedometer display. Other features tell you when you're about to have a collision. While these aren't a replacement for being a good driver, they can make a difference in helping you drive defensively.
How old is too old to be driving?
There is no definitive answer to how old is too old to be driving, but there are some important factors to consider when deciding if it's time to hand over the keys. Driving requires physical, mental, and emotional capabilities, and any decrease in even one of these can make safe driving difficult.
It's challenging to pin down
Unless there has been a recent and dramatic shift in an ability—due to rapid health deterioration, for example—it may be challenging for older drivers to know that they aren't driving as well as they used to. The decline can happen slowly over months and years, and often it's not apparent until something happens, like an accident.
Check-in regularly with your health practitioner and family members to ensure you're not missing any concerns. In doing so, you can stay on top of any potential issues and make corrections or adaptations as needed.
Some older adults find it works to have their children or a friend ride along on a trip to the store or an appointment to observe and point out any driving concerns. You may be able to resolve some of them through changes to the vehicle itself.
What if you need to stop driving?
The average age seniors stop driving will go up as adults continue living longer. But every person's situation is unique, and how long you continue to drive will likely differ from someone else in your age group.
Older adults are often reluctant to stop driving, even if they doubt their own abilities. They see giving up their vehicle as a loss of freedom and independence, and they don't want to be a burden to others who may have to perform the driving duties. Be sure to discuss what will happen if you can't continue to drive, and look for ways to get to where you need (and want) to go.
How to stay on the road
Some Medicare Advantage plans cover transportation to doctor's appointments, and ridesharing services make it easy to get one-way rides to your favorite social activities. Your local office on aging or community center should have additional service options available to help you stay mobile—even when you're not behind the wheel.
With specific KelseyCare Advantage plans, we make it easy to get where you need to go with free rides to and from medical appointments. Learn more about this unique benefit today!