This week we celebrate Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. This topic is a difficult discussion point but is one very important to have. With aging, there are physical, mental, and sensory changes making driving safely more challenging. Older Driver Safety Awareness week aims to promote understanding and discuss solutions that can help keep older adults active and out in their communities, whether it be working, shopping, or volunteering.

Address issues before they become dangerous

Some of the changes that can occur as you age include slower reaction time, night blindness, and pain and stiffness. These conditions can affect driving skills but do not need to prohibit driving entirely. There are tools now, such as the Handybar that gives you a place to hold onto while getting in or out the car, as well as, other tools that can help to fasten and unfasten your seatbelt when your hands are plagued by arthritis.
If driving at night has become more difficult or you are straining to see in the dark, restricting driving to daylight hours can be a solution that allows you to continue to drive. Some older adults have anxiety about driving when the roads are busy and congested. Choosing times when there is less traffic to run errands and have appointments can decrease anxiety with driving.

Stay loose and healthy to help your driving skills

Pain and stiffness can also affect your driving skills as you age. Working with a therapist that has the skills to evaluate a person’s overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and provide rehabilitation, if necessary, is important. Letting your therapist know the difficulties you are having, which could be getting in and out the car, turning your neck to check your blind spot, or having enough ankle strength, mobility, and feeling in your feet to be able to quickly move your foot from the accelerator to the brake, allows your therapist to tailor a program to your specific needs.

Be careful mixing over the counter medications with prescriptions

According to AAA, eight out of ten senior drivers age 65 and older take medications on a regular basis. Even with high prescription and over the counter medication use, very few people talk with their doctors about the effects the medications may have on their driving. Most medications do not have side effects that impact safety behind the wheel, however, some medications can cause drowsiness, confusion and blurred vision which can impact your ability to drive safely.

By proactively taking notice of changes in driving safety and working together with a skilled therapist, we can keep everyone safer on the roads while allowing older adults to maintain their transportation independence.

Physical Therapist at Freedom Physical Therapy Services
Molly Rittberg received her master’s degree in Physical Therapy in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to receive her doctorate from Rosalind Franklin University (North Chicago) in 2009. She has since worked in an outpatient orthopedic practice where she worked with patients of all ages, injuries and disabilities. She has a wide variety of experiences including knee, ankle, foot and shoulder injuries, post-operative conditions, spinal rehabilitation and peripheral neuropathies.