As you get older, you may find that driving becomes harder to do. You may have trouble seeing well at night or you may not react as quickly to sudden events or other driving conditions. Learn the types of medical conditions that can affect driving, including Alzheimer’s disease, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and certain types of medication.
However, being older does not automatically make a person an unsafe driver. We find that it’s often your health and not your age that really matters most. And driving may become especially difficult for an older person if the aging process is exacerbated by a medical condition.
Medical Conditions That Affect Driving
The natural process of aging makes it difficult for some older people to continue driving in a safe manner. Often, accompanying medical problems make the situation worse. These medical conditions include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vision disorders such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma
- Medication use
Age-related changes vary widely from one person to the next. That’s why some people can continue driving much longer than others. Over time, people with Alzheimer’s disease will likely begin to lose faculties vital for driving, including reflexes, coordination, reaction time, eyesight, hearing, judgment, and the ability to orient themselves.
Age-related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye disease that causes deterioration of the macula, the tissue located in the central part of the retina.
AMD causes blurriness and blind spots in the middle of a person’s field of vision. This results in dependence on peripheral vision, seeing things out of the corner of the eye while looking straight ahead. Peripheral vision often lacks sharpness and clarity.
In contrast to AMD, the various forms of glaucoma are more likely to initially cause problems with peripheral vision. Drivers with peripheral vision loss may have trouble noticing traffic signs on the side of the road or seeing cars and pedestrians about to cross their path. As glaucoma progresses, central vision also becomes impaired.
Medications may affect driving performance among older drivers. Many drugs have adverse side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, hazy vision, unsteadiness, fainting, and slowed reaction time. Common medications that may cause side effects include sleep aids, antidepressants, antihistamines for allergies and colds, and strong painkillers.
Also, taking several different drugs together can create serious side effects. Many commonly prescribed drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease also have side effects. Consult with a physician before beginning any drug treatment regimen to determine how it may affect your driving.
Having a particular medical condition does not necessarily mean you will have to stop driving. But it’s very important that you pay close attention to how well you drive. If you or someone you know is concerned about your driving, talk to your doctor and consider taking a driving test or evaluation.
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