Ask St. Ann’s – Keeping Your Driving Skills Sharp at Any Age

By Clarise Klaver, Occupational Therapist at St. Ann’s Community

 Whether you’re going on vacation or visiting family, having the freedom to hop in your car and go is why Americans equate driving with independence. Staying sharp behind the wheel can help you hold on to this privilege, regardless of your age.

For older drivers, challenges of aging can make it difficult to do what was once second nature:

• Have full range of motion to get in and out of vehicles, buckle up, check for blind spots and operate controls.

• See and hear the surroundings and understand traffic signs, signals and sirens.

• Assess and react to situations quickly, calmly and safely.

Fortunately, many of these obstacles don’t have to get in the way of your road trip. Here are some key things you should do:

— Equip yourself: Have your vision and hearing tested every one to two years to determine if you need corrective lenses or hearing aids. Be sure to use them, too!

— Stay active: Stay physically, mentally and socially active and engaged every day.

— Access technology: Newer vehicles often have built-in safety features such as a rear camera and auditory and visual alarms to help you navigate safely. If you have physical limitations, adapt your vehicle with touchpads, spinner wheels, switches, transfer seats or hand and foot controls.

— Take a refresher course: AARP and AAA offer defensive driving classes to help you brush up on road safety and to learn about new traffic laws (yes, some have changed) and new automotive technologies. You’ll also save 10% on your car insurance for three years.

If a stroke, joint replacement, surgery or other medical event compromises your ability to drive, a rehabilitation center like the Transitional Care Center at St. Ann’s Community can assess your situation and provide treatment to help you reach your potential.

Once you’re ready to go, here are a few safety tips to remember on the road:

— Travel during off-peak and daylight hours, and avoid expressways if you cannot merge quickly and safely.

— Map your route to reduce your anxiety. GPS is a great navigation tool, but bring along a paper map and TripTik from AAA as back up in case cell phone service is spotty.

— Limit your driving time to eight hours per day and get plenty of sleep at night, so you stay alert.

— Take breaks every two hours to walk and stretch your legs to prevent blood clots.

— Eat and stay hydrated to keep your blood sugar and blood pressure at proper levels by incorporating a snack break during longer road trips.

— Share the driving with your travel buddy.

Ours is a beautiful country. Keeping your driving abilities sharp and taking care along the way will help you see every mile of it safely.

Enjoy your trip!

 Clarise Klaver is an occupational therapist at St. Ann’s Community. Contact her at cklaver@mystanns.com or visit www.stannscommunity.com.