The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.― Dave Barry, Pulitzer prize-winning humor columnist in Dave Barry Turns Fifty
Have you ever tried to explain to someone about the fact that they should not be driving any more because they are not driving safely? Talk about a challenge – “difficult” is actually an understatement. My mom severed a twenty-five year relationship with her primary care physician because I asked him to let her know that she could no longer drive safely.
The ability to drive represents independence and freedom from having to ask others to chauffer you somewhere. It represents competence, and lets us go to where we want or need to go. Driving is important socially; it lets us stay connected to our communities and favorite activities.
As an elder law attorney, I have been involved in this situation from many directions; working with clients, family and friends.
Remembering that, and knowing that I always counsel readers to consider taking the AARP Safe Driver’s Course, I signed up myself and completed the 4-hour course last week. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed, and wanted to share some things I learned from the class in today’s column.
Students receive, among other things, a Participant Guidebook, which is used to navigate us along class objectives and segments. The book is filled to the brim with useful information presented in text, graphics, graphs, self tests, pictures of intersections, etc. It is the type of text book that right away makes you want to look at every page. You definitely do not think of the word boring when you flip through the pages.
Near the beginning, the teacher advised that if we could be honest with ourselves and honestly reflect on what our strengths and weaknesses actually are, that knowledge actually assists us in the goal of being able to drive longer. If we know and can admit to any areas of even possible weakness; such as our vision and hearing change as we age, reaction time slows as we age, our flexibility, strength and endurance also change. Furthermore, some medications, medical conditions and, of course, our brain health affect our ability to drive.
If we can rationally discuss some of these things with ourselves (she didn’t ever say one word about admitting our challenges to others!), we can perhaps learn about how to overcome the issues, make accommodations, or ask our doctor to change some of our medications.
The theme of this segment of the course is “Things Change.” In the class these issues are discussed, along with various ways to address our changes in a manner that allows us to maintain safe driving practices. The segment discusses medications, medical conditions, and use of alcohol.
Continuing on this theme, we discussed night driving and vision issues, hearing, brain health, flexibility, strength and endurance. There is a wealth of material and suggestions.
Senior Moments has never advocated that, as we grow older, we sit down in our recliner and say “ok, I’m done.” However, that may be our fate if we insist on denying every change that occurs in our life. Even if we cannot summon the strength to embrace the changes, at least we can admit them, gather information and learn how to accommodate them. If we deny them all, then there is no way for us to continue to grow and learn. Growing in this way will most likely allow us to continue to drive for a longer period of time – and to honestly plan transitions for when we are no longer actually able to do so.
Driving, of course, is multi sensory. It requires many of our senses to operate at peak efficiency. When your eye doctor asks you to read the letters on an eye chart, for instance, you are being tested for visual acuity. There are two types of visual acuity: 1) the ability to see stationary objects clearly, and 2) the ability to see objects in motion clearly. Although many of us can continue to see clearly as we get older, there are relatively larger changes in the ability to see moving objects over time. There is also evidence that our pupils become smaller and less able to dilate in dim light, such as at dusk or dawn.
Some of the suggested fixes for the previous paragraph include 1) have regular eye examinations by a licensed eye doctor, 2) ask if you should get separate eyeglasses for day and night driving, 3) ask about anti-reflective coating on eyeglasses to reduce glare and improve night vision, and 4) have a mechanic check if your headlights are properly adjusted, so they light the road properly.
If you enjoy spending time on your computer, visit www.aarp.org/DRCsweeps. This is an interesting and fun website. You answer a short question profile, and AARP computers design a Driving Plan for you. It includes games to play to increase reaction time, brain health exercises specifically targeted for driving, an on-line tool to see whether your car “fits” you and more. A bonus: You are entered in a drawing for a monthly prize of $1,000 just for signing up!
The National Highway Traffic Safe Administration has a wonderful booklet to download, How to Understand & Influence Older Drivers. You can find it on their website www.nhtsa.gov.
Thank you for reading. Stay well. See you next week.