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How health and aging can affect driving

Apr. 19, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Estimates say that by the year 2030, one in five drivers in America will be over the age of 65. You may be one of them. Age alone shouldn't be considered as an indicator of driving ability, but it does figure into the equation.

As you get older, you may notice physical changes or changes in other abilities that can affect your driving, especially in challenging situations like merging or changing lanes. Vision, hearing, attention and reaction time, strength, flexibility and coordination are all affected by the aging process and impact driving in various ways. Medications and certain health conditions can also affect people in ways that make driving dangerous. But, age-related changes vary widely from one person to the next. That's why some people can continue driving much longer than others.

One of the most obvious age-related concerns about driving is vision. Older eyes need more light and more time to adjust when light changes, so it can be hard to see clearly, especially at dawn, dusk, and night. Eyes become more sensitive to glare from headlights and other sources of light. Peripheral vision -- the ability to see to the side while looking ahead -- often declines as people age, increasing the risk of crashes. In addition, field of vision -- how much you can see all at once -- narrows, making it harder to spot an object in a cluttered view.

Other age-related changes include loss of hearing and changes in attention and reaction time which both affect driving abilities. And of course some medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, can lead to driver impairment.

Lastly, several age-related diseases and conditions can affect the ability to drive. Some of the most common ones are Parkinson's disease, macular degeneration, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and dementia.

Having a particular health condition does not necessarily mean the end of driving. But you should pay attention to how well you drive and consider adjusting your driving habits to compensate for any changes. If you or someone you know is concerned about your driving, talk to your doctor and consider getting a driving evaluation available through local community resources.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Healthy Habits 2013 is a partnership among Cabell Huntington Hospital, Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and St. Mary's Medical Center. We are a community working together to improve our health. Our goal is a simple one: to inform and encourage area residents on ways to improve their health. Join our conversation and "like" us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/healthyhabits2013.