Hints to help those 65 and older drive longer

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Has someone questioned your driving ability? Did you recently have a fender bender that made you think of giving up the keys?

There are many processes of aging that affect driving; however, because everyone ages differently there can be no arbitrary cut-off age for driving.

For some, loss of muscle flexibility, strength and coordination might be a problem; for others, there are visual and auditory deficits.

All of us will experience some level of mental decline, becoming unable to process the outside stimuli as efficiently and therefore become slower at multitasking, an important part of driving. And of course there are many kinds of dementia that can affect one's ability to drive.

Some diseases that are more common in the older generation, such as arthritis, can cause stiff joints and pain, making it difficult to turn your neck or move the foot from the gas pedal to the brake.

Older adults complain about not being able to see at night, with the glare from oncoming headlights blinding the driver.

Many medications can affect driving ability by causing drowsiness or lack of concentration.

Driving can become safer and less stressful for the older driver by taking some simple steps.

First, be sure that you get enough sleep. You'll have sharper cognitive processes and be less likely to become drowsy behind the wheel.

See your physician every one to two years for your eyes and every three years for a hearing test. Wear your glasses and hearing aids if you have them.

When you are driving, don't take undue risks. Stay on smaller roads when possible and avoid traffic. Drive defensively.

There are defensive driving courses available through AAA and AARP, and your insurance company might lower your premium if they recommend the course.

When you drive on a highway, stay in the right lane, where drivers tend to be a little slower. Leave a longer braking distance from the car in front of you.

Make sure your car is in good working order. Have the brakes checked often and make sure you have a vehicle with power steering and power brakes. Keep the windshield clean and keep the noise inside the car to a minimum.

Concentrate on your driving. Drive by yourself if possible and avoid distractions.

Don't drive in inclement weather. Don't drive at night if you have had a physician evaluate your eyes and no improvement has been made. Limit the distance you drive if necessary.

Be familiar with the public bus schedule or alternatives you can use in case of an emergency.

If you are still unsure about your driving, you can have a driving rehabilitation specialist evaluate your skills. The specialist will make suggestions about what skills you need to improve.

By making a concerted effort to maintain your driving skills and combat the naturally occurring aging processes with sensible solutions, you could extend your driving time.

Sally Wogsland, RN, BSN is co-owner of ComForCare Home Care and is also a Certified Senior Advisor. SWogsland@ComForCare.com

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