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As we get older the multiple tasks that we have to make every time we are behind the wheel of a car become increasingly difficult.
Driving is a complex, fast paced activity. A typical driver makes 20 decisions per mile, with a less than a half second to act to avoid collision.
Getting older does not necessarily mean that we have to stop driving. However it is important to know when the time comes that the physical limitations of an advancing age do not allow us to drive any more.
According to data from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, for every mile driven in the United States, people age 65 and older are involved in more crashes than people in any other group except for teenagers. They are as well 17 times more likely to die as a result of a crash than people between the ages of 25 and 64.
An aging body and mind impair driving. The coordination of hands, feet, eyes, ears and other body movements depends on the functional integrity of each organ or body part involved. As age advances the effects of time decrease our ability to sense, decide and act rapidly.
Vision, which provides 85% of the information necessary to drive, deteriorates with age. Night vision is particularly affected in aged people. The field of vision typically narrows with age, increasing the possibility of a side collision at an intersection.
The most common eye diseases that affect driving are:
Cataract: The vision becomes blurred or hazy. It is caused by a clouding of the lens of the eye. The night vision is impaired. There is more sensibility to light.
Glaucoma: Peripheral vision is diminished because of abnormally high pressure in the eyeball. This causes difficulties to see a vehicle approaching from the side or a pedestrian.
Macular degeneration: Deterioration and loss of central vision. Caused by lesion in the part of retina responsible for central vision. This makes difficult to see other cars, stop signs or pedestrians.
Additionally, impaired hearing worsens our driving abilities as we get older. Approximately 30% of people age 65 or more suffer significant hearing loss.
Prescription drugs and many other over-the-counter medications may cause drowsiness or induce a slow reaction time. Taking more than one of such drugs as well as advanced age, increase the risk of unwanted side effects that make driving perilous.
Older adults suffer from a variety of diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and stroke that can impair driving.
Diabetes can affect the eyes and deteriorate the vision. It can damage the nerves and limit reaction time. If blood sugar levels drop low because of diabetic problems the person affected can become dizzy, shaky, confused or even faint.
Arthritis causes painful joints and diminishes body movements. People who suffer from Parkinson's disease can be rigid, have tremors and be slow in their movements. People who suffered a stroke can have muscle weakness, vision problems, loss of control of one or both parts of their body.
Knowing when to stop driving and give up the keys can be a very difficult decision.
Some signs that indicate that us or somebody from our family, has difficulties in driving include moving too slowly on the highway, failing to come to a full stop at stop signs, becoming inattentive, reacting too slowly, making erratic moves, being honked frequently by other drivers, missing traffic signs and get too anxious high traffic areas and being afraid to drive.
Older people need more time to concentrate and to react quickly. This mental deterioration which inevitably appears at varying degrees as age advances, can cause confusion or faulty decisions on congested traffic areas.
Experts agree that the driving ability generally begins to deteriorate at age 55. Not everybody follows the same route as there are people who have more strengths and can continue to drive safely well into old age.
It is important for aged people to have their vision and hearing to be tested regularly.
They should ask their doctor about their medication. In particular they should ask whether any of the drugs taken or a combination of the drugs can diminish the ability to drive.
Physical exercise can help significantly because it improves coordination, body movements and increases muscular strength.
Keeping an active mental situation improves the overall decision making capacities of the aged persons and slows down the age related mental deterioration.
Regular medical examinations should look for diabetes, high blood pressure and in case that an aged person suffers from these ailments, a good control of them can help extend the time that person will be able to drive.
Aged persons should try to avoid driving in the night time or in bad weather. They should plan in advance their route, choose familiar areas and avoid busy roads. Eating, talking on a mobile phone with or without the hands when driving should be avoided. These distractions increase the risk of accidents.
Older people should choose a car more suitable to them. Bigger and more spacey cars, with large glare-proof mirrors, automatic transmission, power windows, height-adjustable seats, steering wheel, height-adjustable safety belt anchors, can help older drivers cope with the increasing difficulties they face.
A refresher course can improve the driving abilities of older people, can teach them new techniques of driving to compensate the effects of aging and as well update them about changing traffic laws.
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