How seniors can safely stay behind the wheel

 A greater sense of independence is often cited as the reason so many young people anxiously await the day they earn their drivers’ licenses. But the connection between driving and independence is not lost on seniors, either.

Aging can take its toll on drivers, prompting such drivers’ families to feel as if their loved ones’ ability to safely operate motor vehicles has been compromised. However, many seniors can still safely operate motor vehicles, and those who do can take steps to ensure they’re as safe as possible behind the wheel.

• Avoid driving on days when aches and pains are strong. Aches and pains are common side effects of aging, and seniors know that some days are better than others. Seniors’ ability to control their vehicles may be compromised on days when stiffness, aches or pains seem particularly strong, so it’s best to avoid driving during these times. Fatigue may set in on days when aches and pains require extra effort to perform relatively simple tasks, and drivers of all ages should avoid driving while tired.

• Don’t skip medical checkups. Few seniors may look forward to their medical checkups, but visits to the doctor can reveal issues that can help seniors be safer on the road. Schedule routine vision exams so eyeglass prescriptions are always up-to-date. In addition, seniors should discuss hearing screenings with their physicians so they can ensure they can always hear sirens and other motorists while on the road. Great strides have been made in regard to helping people with fading hearing hear better, and seniors would be wise to take advantage of such advancements, which include hearing aids that can be connected to smartphones.

• Familiarize yourself with medication side effects. Whether they do so temporarily or permanently, many seniors take medications, and every medication comes with side effects. When filling a new prescription, carefully read the dosage and description label to ensure that it’s safe to drive while taking the medicine. Make note of how you feel when taking a new prescription, avoiding driving if the medication makes you feel fatigued or drowsy or affects your motor functions. If the side effects of a new prescription are making it difficult to safely operate a vehicle, discuss potential alternatives with your physician.

• Avoid driving in certain conditions. Driving in inclement weather, during rush hour and at night makes many drivers uncomfortable, regardless of their age. But such conditions can be especially dangerous for aging drivers whose vision and reaction times might be fading.

Seniors who avoid driving in harsh conditions and heavy traffic may be more comfortable behind the wheel, thereby reducing their risk of accident or injury. Seniors need not give up their drivers’ licenses at the first signs of aging. But adjusting certain behaviors and exercising extra caution can help these men and women stay safe behind the wheel.

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