Visual impairment - driving safety for older adults

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Driving Safety for Older Adults

Driving is an extremely complex everyday task. There are visual, cognitive (thinking, judgment, reasoning, remembering) and physical demands of driving that require the older adult driver to attend to a rapidly changing environment outside of the car. 

Your Ageing Eyes

You may barely notice the changes at first. Maybe you’ve found yourself reaching more often for your glasses to see up close. You might have trouble adjusting to glaring lights or reading when the light is dim. You may even have put on purple socks thinking they were black.

As we age, the eye and vision naturally begin to experience a decline. The pupils in the eye, which allow light to enter, begin to shrink and dilate less, allowing less light to enter the retina. This causes reduced night vision. Additionally, some of our peripheral vision diminishes along with our ability to see moving objects. 

Due to deterioration of the cornea and clouding of the lens of the eye, glare becomes more disruptive and contrast sensitivity is reduced, making it harder to perceive images clearly. Additionally, our reaction times slow, adding motor complications to the visual ones.

Dry eyes also becomes a bigger problem with age as the lacrimal glands don’t produce as many tears to keep the eyes moist. 

If you add in any other vision problems such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration which are age-related diseases that gradually reduce vision, you can have a serious danger on your hands. 

Here are some ways that your ability to drive can be impaired as you age and some safety tips to help you to stay safe on the roads. 

Suggestions For Glare Sensitivity and Driving

  • Glare sensitivity is another problem for many older adult drivers, during both day and night. By keeping your windshield, other car windows, and your eyeglasses clean, you can help to prevent some glare. Smudges, streaks, and dirt will often refract light at odd angles and will create more glare.
  • When the light from oncoming cars shines directly in your eyes, you should look slightly down and to the right of the road. You will be able to see the road using your peripheral vision which is less sensitive to glare.
  • Sunglasses may also help to reduce glare, especially those with a yellow or amber tint, which tends to increase contrast without darkening the environment. A yellow tinted lens may help on cloudy, rainy or at night. Only a yellow tinted lens should be used for night driving.

Other Suggestions for Road and Driving Safety

To stay safe on the road, older adults can implement the following suggestions:

  • Know the environments and situations that make you uncomfortable. Certain types of weather or busy roads may be distressing for you. Avoid these situations.
  • Stay in the slow lane as much as possible. Use familiar routes and stay close to home.
  • Drive in the daytime if you are bothered by night glare. Avoid dusk hours, which create low-contrast driving situations.
  • Avoid heavy traffic times, such as rush hour or around the time of school dismissal. 
  • Identify and eliminate distractions. Turn off the radio. Don’t use your cell phone. Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in the car. Limit the number of passengers in your car.
  • Plan your routes ahead of time. Think about the traffic on the roads you will drive. Consider where and in what direction you will turn. 
  • Participate in a regular exercise program in order to maintain or increase the mobility of your neck and trunk, your coordination, and your overall endurance.
  • Explore local alternatives to driving. Taxi services, UBER or GRAB are great alternatives. These may come in handy if you need to get to an appointment scheduled at rush hour or during bad weather.

Remember, Maintain Good Eye Health

Make sure that you get your eyes checked on a regular basis and that any eye conditions you have are being treated and monitored. Good nutrition, exercise and overall healthy habits will help to protect and heal your eyes as well. Further, listen to your instincts, if you feel unsafe driving or if your doctor (or family members) tell you it’s time to hand in the keys, think about utilizing other means of transportation to get around. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Dr Vanessa, eye doctor and eye plastic specialist at Island Hospital Penang.

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