Age-Related Changes

How Aging Affects Driving:
Age-Related Changes - Medical Conditions - Dealing With Changes

Vision

Good vision is essential for good driving health. But, as people age, everyone experiences changes in vision. Some of these changes result from normal differences in the way the eyes respond to light as we age, while others are a result of eye disease. It is important to have regular eye exams to identify age-related vision changes. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye exams for those over the age of 60.

According to the American Optometric Association, the following age-related vision problems and changes can impact driving:

    • Not being able to see road signs clearly
    • Difficulty seeing objects up close, like the car instrument panel
    • Difficulty judging distances and speed
    • Changes in color perception
    • Problems seeing in low light or at night
    • Difficulty adapting to bright sunlight or glare from headlights
    • Experiencing loss of vision to the side

 (Source: American Optometric Association)

Recommendations:
  • Get annual eye exams to check for early signs of eye disease and to be sure your prescription is up to date.
  • Wear sunglasses on bright days. Sunglasses should be for your current prescription, if you require vision correction.
  • Choose frames with narrow sides, to prevent obstructing your side vision.
  • Turn your head to help improve your field of vision, rather than relying on your side vision.
  • Consider limiting driving to daylight and good weather conditions.
  • Keep windows and mirrors clean and free of streaks.

For additional tips on safely managing vision changes, see:

American Optometric Association tips for Driving Safely After 60

AARP article, Vision and Driving.

Physical Fitness

Decreased strength, coordination, and flexibility can have a major impact on your ability to safely control your car. Some ways strength, coordination, and flexibility are important to driving include:

  • Getting in and out of the car safely
  • Looking behind you when backing out
  • Turning your head and neck to check blind spots
  • Applying strong braking pressure when needed, such as when unexpected situations occur
  • Coordination of tasks, such as braking, signaling, and turning

Physical fitness and ability can be affected by the normal aging process, but there are ways to minimize these changes. Getting regular exercise, which can be as simple as taking brisk walks, and stretching regularly can help maintain the flexibility, strength, and coordination needed to keep driving safely.

The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT AgeLab offer simple exercises in the video below to help you maintain the physical skills needed to drive:

The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence has published a brochure on these exercises which you can access here: Exercises for Mature Drivers

The AAA Senior Driving website offers additional information and videos on good stretches to maintain the physical skills needed for safe driving. Access their Physical Fitness page to learn more.

Attention and Reaction Time

Driving requires dividing your attention between multiple activities and being able to react quickly to situations that can occur without warning. While seniors may remain otherwise mentally sharp into old age, they may experience slower reaction times. To combat this, drivers can both adjust their driving habits and exercise their minds.

Adjust your driving habits
  • Leave extra space in front of your car – this will give you more time to react to unexpected situations.
  • Plan your route in advance – knowing where you need to turn will help avoid making last minute decisions.
  • Avoid busy streets and intersections – heavy traffic, pedestrians, and busy intersections all require increased attention in order to anticipate and respond to changing road situations.
  • Get enough sleep – drowsiness further decreases reaction time for drivers of all ages.
  • Avoid distractions – the radio, conversations, and other passengers can all further divide your attention. You may find it easier to concentrate and react more quickly when those distractions are minimized or eliminated.
Exercise your brain
  • While research into brain health is expanding rapidly, there is still a lot we need to discover and understand. Evidence suggests that learning new skills challenges your brain and helps keep it sharp. The exact benefits of brain exercises are still being investigated, but many people choose to engage in brain exercises to help protect against decline. For more information and ideas to exercise your brain, visit the Training and Education section of the Driving Safely page.