Keys to healthy aging and driving
5/4/2023 by Ericka Tung, M.D., M.P.H.
As we age, we're faced with numerous big decisions. Where should I live? What activities bring me the most joy? How will I spend my time in retirement? A big question that many older adults consider is when to retire from driving.
Aging and medical conditions impact driving fitness
With age, all of us will experience physiologic changes that impact our ability to drive. For example, our ability to react quickly decreases as does our ability to divide our attention between multiple activities. Additionally, medical conditions can affect your ability to drive safely. Common conditions like peripheral neuropathy, sleep apnea, cognitive impairment and vision impairment can all impact our driving fitness.
You might be concerned about a family member or friend's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Worrisome signs include driving too fast or too slow, getting lost in familiar areas, struggling with turning left or having difficulty parking. Additional red flags include car accidents, traffic violations and near misses.
Who can help me decide?
Still, getting older doesn't mean that you automatically have to give up driving. Most older adults are very capable of safe driving. For many of us, driving allows us to stay actively independent and mobile in our communities. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult to know when it's time to consider driving retirement. Thankfully, there are members of the health care team that can help make this difficult decision. While it might seem strange to talk to your clinician about driving safety, your primary care team knows you well and can have an honest discussion with you about your medical conditions and how these might impact your ability to stay safe on the road.
Here are some keys for older adults to consider
- Perform a self-assessment with your loved ones.
- Encourage open dialogue with your loved ones about driving safety.
- Talk to your primary care clinician about how your health conditions might impact driving safety.
- Ask your primary care team if working with a driving rehabilitation expert might be useful.
- Learn about transportation alternatives in your community. Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find these resources.
- Consider your driving legacy. We all want to end our driving career on a safe note, not after an accident. Plan for driving retirement on your own terms.
Ericka Tung, M.D., M.P.H., is a physician specializing in Internal Medicine and Geriatrics. She practices in the Division of Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care where she also leads the Geriatric Medicine Fellowship. She is passionate about healthy aging throughout the life course.