There is nothing quite as freeing as the ability to drive yourself from point A to point B, and this is particularly the case for senior citizens. Many seniors love the freedom of getting behind the wheel to run errands, travel to jobs, and see their loved ones. But what happens when their vision starts to go? Can someone with deteriorating eyesight still drive?
This is a question that technological innovators in the automobile industry have been pondering for several years, and they have risen to the challenge with many advancements that help those with vision impairments drive just as well as their younger counterparts.
Improved Technology for Seniors
Currently, new technologies are being developed to help seniors with low vision and age-related macular degeneration; in fact, special glasses are available for both of these conditions. When someone has low vision, they have trouble distinguishing between objects like signs and oncoming vehicles from what is in the background. The glasses are tinted yellow and orange, and the effect increases the contrast of what users see. Those who suffer from macular degeneration can also get special glasses that have bioptic telescopes that enlarge distant objects up to eight times their original size.
While accessories can certainly help, companies are also working to make the cars themselves safer for seniors with vision issues. For many experts, the goal is to help people drive as long as safely possible. Some of the most widely known advancements include backup cameras that can help seniors get a closer view of what is behind them and lane departure warnings which sound an alert if drivers have trouble noticing if they are drifting out of lanes. In addition, many new cars include auto-dimming rearview mirrors, glare-reducing side mirrors, and modified instrument panels with large numbers and letters.
Though there is still work to do, it is possible that the advancement of self-driving cars can also keep seniors with poor vision safe. Self-driving technology development company Waymo claims they are designing self-driving cars that will pick up visually impaired passengers by giving an audible signal when it arrives, along with an app that would inform the rider of the car’s progress paired with control buttons marked in braille.
While we will have to wait for this tech to arrive, seniors who wish to proactively search for cars with particular safety features can use this tool to find the right vehicle for them.
Know When It Is Time to Quit
Although these new features are allowing seniors to keep driving for longer, there might come a time where it may no longer be safe for an older person to be on the road. The fact is that the streets can be dangerous, especially with problems like speeding and distracted driving, so if a senior can no longer safely see or has delayed reaction time, the end result could be deadly. Many types of accidents can occur in these situations, and it is important to know if the driver can see adequately and properly avoid them.
If a senior were to see a stop sign too late, they could cause several different types of car accidents: A rear-end collision could result in neck and shoulder strains, whiplash, and more serious issues. Seniors who lose control in a vehicle with a higher centre of gravity, such as an SUV, could get into a rollover accident which is particularly dangerous on rainy days and could lead to serious injury. In one of the worst-case scenarios, if a senior cannot adequately see the flow of traffic or properly understand street signals, they could raise the dangerous possibility of a head-on collision with a very real risk of fatality.
To make matters worse, if these injuries don’t keep seniors involved in traffic accidents off the road, the medical debt associated with those injuries might. Depending on the state, medical debt may never go away, leaving seniors, who often live on a fixed income, incapable of affording the repairs and maintenance of a vehicle.
At a certain point, having poor vision could mean the end of a driving career, as awareness of your surroundings is essential when behind the wheel. Seniors who are easily confused can have slower reaction time, and those who lack the strength to accurately control the steering wheel should consider not sitting behind the wheel. It may be a sad situation, but it may also be necessary in order to keep the individual safe. Seniors on the fence can take this screening questionnaire to determine if they are still fit to drive.
If you feel that a parent is no longer safe behind the wheel, the best approach is to respectfully explain the dangers and give them time to process before providing alternatives such as an offer to drive them to the places they enjoy going.
Take Care of Your Eyes
It must be noted that just because someone is classified as a senior, it doesn’t mean that they are no longer capable of being behind the wheel, especially if they take care of their eyes. There are many things that seniors can do every day to maintain healthy eyesight. The most important tip is to stay on top of your annual exams and explain any issues you are having to your optometrist.
Outside of those appointments, you can keep your vision in check by eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. People commonly say that carrots help your eyes, but what really helps is a healthy intake of antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, which we can get from leafy greens and fish. Also helpful is a regular sleeping routine, so you are not straining your eyes by staying up too late or waking up too early.
During the day, wear sunglasses that are rated with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. While you watch television, always follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away from the screen for 20 seconds at least a distance of 20 feet away. A daily exercise regimen can also help because being active gets your blood flowing and increases circulation, which is excellent for your eyes. Finally, if you smoke, consider quitting. Smoking reduces the flow of blood and nutrients to the eyes, which is why smokers have a higher risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Driving is a privilege that many take very seriously, as we should. Just because we get older, it doesn’t necessarily mean that our days behind the wheel are kaput. With these technical innovations and an understanding of their limits, seniors can still have many good years of driving ahead of them.