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The Dangers of Driving as You Age

There are few things more freeing than getting behind the wheel of a car and heading down the highway – and that’s not just for teenagers. The Federal Highway Administration reports that there are more than 41 million licensed drivers on the road who are age 65 and older. That’s up from 26 million just 20 years ago, and as the Baby Boomers age, expect there to be a lot more gray hairs gracing the roads. 

“The unfortunate truth is that getting older causes a lot of issues that can affect your driving,” says Kristine TiltonExecutive Director of Waterstone at Wellesley. “No one wants to give up their freedom, but there may come a time when you or a senior you love have to hang up the keys for their own safety – and the safety of everyone on the road.”

It can be difficult for a senior to recognize that he or she is no longer a safe driver, says Kristine, so it’s up to friends and family members to observe their driving skills over time and determine if giving up the car is the right option. 

“Not every senior is a danger on the road, and if your senior is healthy and in good shape, he or she may be fine driving around town,” she says. “However, if you’ve been concerned about your driving, or if you’ve had significant health changes, it’s good to take a long, hard look at yourself and see if your driving is something to be concerned about. 

Here are some of the issues that arise as we age that can affect our driving abilities:

Muscle and joint stiffness

As we age, our muscles weaken and our joints can get stiff. If you have arthritis – a common ailment among older adults – it can affect your ability to make fast movements that are necessary when driving, such as braking safely, turning the steering wheel quickly or twisting your head around to check your blind spots.

Difficulty seeing

It’s no surprise that our eyesight worsens as we get older (bifocals or trifocals, anyone?). This can make it more difficult to see objects and movement that isn’t in your direct line of sight. It can take longer to read traffic signs or recognize where you are. Night driving may be practically impossible due to street lights and oncoming headlines. And that’s just with normal aging. If you have eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration, you may face additional vision problems. 

Hearing problems

As go our eyes, so go our ears. It’s more difficult for seniors to hear, meaning it’s more difficult to notice sirens, horns or problematic noises coming from your car. Since all these can be warning signs that there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, hearing loss can be a big safety risk, even if you have hearing aids. 

Slower reflexes.

Have you noticed you have a shorter attention span than you used to? Or is it more difficult to make a quick movement? Does everything take a little bit longer to do now that you’re older? These could all be signs of slower reflexes, which can be the difference between a close call and a bad accident when you’re on the road. You may also have mobility issues due to past illness like a stroke or Parkinson’s disease. 

Medication interactions. 

Seniors take a lot of medications. Do any of them have warnings about driving while using? Does your medication make you feel less alert than usual? If your medications are making driving unsafe, you may get to a point when you’re not safe behind the wheel – or you’re putting your health at risk by skipping medicines that affect your driving. 

Tips for Being a Safe Senior Driver

  • Know what causes your problems and take steps to remedy them. Perhaps you can stop driving at night, or in bad weather. 
  • Get your driving skills checked by a therapist, rehabilitation specialist or another professional.
  • Take a defensive driving course to learn tips on how to avoid issues. 
  • If the weather looks dicey, don’t go out. Wait until the weather is better. Or, if you need to go somewhere, use public transportation, call a taxi (or a friend) or use a ride-sharpening service like Uber. 
  • Find safer, alternate routes to get where you need to go. For example, can you drive the surface roads instead of the highways? Is there a route that allows you to avoid as many left-hand turns as possible
  • Speak to your doctor about health issues and medications that might cause difficulty driving. 

Things for Loved Ones to Watch For

Sadly, most of the time it’s the responsibility of friends and family to suggest that it may be time to reign in or quit driving altogether. If you have a loved one who’s aging and you’re worried about their driving habits, here are some things to look out for:

  • Not following road signs or practicing safe driving habits while you're riding with them.
  • New dents in their car, more than a few minor fender benders and lots of “near misses.”
  • An increase in traffic tickets or a higher car insurance premium (which could indicate driving issues).
  • Concern from friends or neighbors about your loved one’s driving.
  • Having anxiety about driving in bad weather or at night.
  • An onset of health issues that could cause problems with mobility, hearing or movement.
  • Complaints from your loved one about the “other drivers” on the road, such as their speed or others cutting them off in traffic.
  • A doctor recommending that it’s time to cut down or quit driving.

While no one likes the idea of being told what to do – especially when it comes to giving something up – there are options for seniors to still get around without physically driving themselves. “Many cities have transportation options specifically for seniors that are low-cost and convenient,” says Kristine. “At Waterstone at Wellesley, we provide complimentary transportation services for our residents to chauffeur them to doctor’s appointments, shopping and other events. It’s just one more way we provide our residents with the luxurious lifestyle they’ve earned.”

For more information about driving as you age or how we provide distinctive and luxurious independent and assisted living options for seniors in Wellesley, MA, please contact us at 781.235.1614.

Beautiful Riverfront Community

Located on the banks of the Charles River, Waterstone is Wellesley’s only senior living community, offering premier independent and assisted living. But that’s only the first of many differences that sets Waterstone above and beyond other communities. 

Celebrating Dynamic Living

Here our residents live independently in their own private, spacious apartments – but without any of the worries or concerns of homeownership or living alone. All meals are expertly prepared. There aren’t any chores to be concerned with. No home maintenance or repairs to worry about. Just opportunities around every corner and time to spend as they choose – in the company of new friends.

Our vibrant community encourages residents to engage in a variety of recreational, cultural and social programs and activities. Enjoy a fitness class. Swim in the sunny indoor pool. Take a stroll on a walking path. Partake in a favorite hobby or pastime. Discover a new interest. With Waterstone at Wellesley, there’s a world of opportunity waiting right outside our residents’ doors. 

Confidence of Care

The hallmark of Waterstone assisted living is the peace of mind we provide both our residents and their families. Knowing that care and support is available right on site instills a sense of confidence and calm one can’t find living alone. 

For prospective residents or their families interested in residing at Waterstone at Wellesley, please contact us at 781.235.1614.