Here are 3 easy steps we can take now to prepare ourselves for “older” driver status!
Take these 3 vitamins today to avoid pain killers later in your driving career
Did you know that on average, we outlive our safe driving career by 7-10 years? That’s a pretty amazing statistic! Like preparing financially for the day you retire, it is never too early to start preparing for the day you finally achieve the esteemed title of “older” driver.
Experts report that many of us spend more time planning our next vacation than we do planning for our retirement. And unfortunately, most of us will do almost no advance planning on ways we can extend our safe driving years.
Just as there are steps we can begin taking today to plan for retirement (the earlier the better), there are steps we can begin taking today (the earlier the better), that may someday help to extend our safe driving career.
Taking these three vitamins (the below tips) now can help avoid the necessity of taking pain killers later in life if you ever find yourself forced to give up your keys.
Remember…a pound of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Tip #1: Exercise Regularly
We all know that physical exercise is good for us, regardless of our age. But did you know that for older adults a very strong correlation exits between physical exercise and safe driving?
For years, studies have shown that aerobic exercise can improve brain functions (particularly memory) and can even increase brain volume in older adults. The effects of heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and a host of other conditions can certainly be mitigated by regular physical activity.
Sometimes though we tend to overlook the positive role exercise plays in helping to keep us safe behind the wheel as we progress through the natural aging process. Exercise can help improve an older driver’s flexibility, coordination, strength, balance and range of motion. Simple stretching exercises can help an older driver look left or right more easily to check their blind spots, or to help ensure a safe lane change.
Exercise can also help an older driver turn their neck and body to look behind them before backing. How many tragedies have we read about where an older driver backed over a pedestrian in a parking lot or in some cases, a family member in their own driveway?
In recent years, a tremendous amount of research has been conducted highlighting the important role physical exercise plays in helping our aging population remain safe drivers.
A 2014 study by The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the M.I.T. Age Lab looked at drivers who exercised for 15-20 minutes daily. The study participants reported greater ease in turning their heads to look in blind spots when changing lanes or backing up, compared with a similar group that did not exercise. The exercise group could also rotate their bodies easily to scan the road when making right hand turns compared with non-exercisers.
In a study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity (2011), researchers in Portugal found that significant positive effects in driving were observed in participants of an exercise program. In this particular study, improvements were found in all driving tasks, but particularly in driver reaction time.
The Bottom Line…one of the most effective ways to extend your safe driving career is through an exercise program. Contact your community’s YMCA or senior center to see what classes and programs may be available in your area. Consider enrolling in a Tai chi class or a local wellness program. Whatever you chose to do, start today! It was General George S. Patton who said “A good plan implemented today is better than an excellent plan implemented tomorrow”.
Click here to read more about the important role exercise plays in older driver safety.
Tip #2: Keep Your Mind Sharp
In its simplest terms, driving requires the involvement of two disciplines:
- our physical abilities (sight, flexibility, reaction time, etc.), and
- our cognitive abilities (memory and executive functioning)
As important as it is to keep our body tuned up (see Tip #1), it is equally important that we keep our minds active and sharp.
Staying socially engaged with others; trying new activities and challenging ourselves, reading, and eating healthy are all great ways to help keep our minds active. Keeping friends and loved one’s close helps to ward off depression, which can obviously have an adverse impact on your cognitive health. These are important habits to develop now to help slow the aging process while simultaneously lengthening your safe driving career, even decades from now.
In the family setting, the issue surrounding the important role memory plays in older driver safety is often understated or even overlooked all together. For obvious reasons, when we discuss age related diminished driving skills in older adults, we tend to focus on the physical attributes of safe driving (vision, reflexes, strength, flexibility, hearing, etc.), and may overlook the crucial role memory plays in older driver safety.
Scientists are starting to think that regular aerobic exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for the long-term health of your brain. While the heart and lungs respond loudly to a sprint on the treadmill, the brain is quietly getting fitter with each step, too.
System-wide health concerns have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and memory impairments. Keeping your circulatory system in working order today, by avoiding cigarettes and saturated fat, lessens the onslaught of age-related damage to the brain.
Click here to read more about the vital role memory plays in older driver safety.
As we prepare to enter the “older” driver era, it becomes even more important to stay up to date with vehicle safety technologies. Purchase a new vehicle today and it will likely be equipped with such advances as intelligent brake lights (brake lights that communicate with other vehicles), smart windshields (augmented reality), night vision enhancement, automated parking systems, lane departure warning systems, crash notification and avoidance technologies, electronic blind-spot detection, back-over prevention systems, fatigue warning systems, and forward collision warning with auto brake.
However, all of this new technology is of no value to us if we have not kept our minds sharp. There is much debate among automobile design engineers, psychologists, industry safety researchers, geriatricians and neurologists, etc., on how well the processing abilities of older drivers is going to be able to keep up with the cognitive workload being required by these new technologies.
For example, most crash avoidance technologies rely on drivers to take immediate action. The effectiveness of these systems depends on whether drivers accept the technologies, understand the information from the reporting systems, and respond appropriately. Often times, in order to be effective and safe, the processing of these new sensory inputs will need to occur in well under a slit-second of time, and that’s quick.
For decades, the military has been conducting research on the phenomenon known as ‘fighter pilot information overload’. This occurs when the pilot becomes so inundated with information produced by intelligence gathering technologies within the cockpit that his or her mind loses its ability to properly analyze the incoming data. Worse still, sometimes that overload of information can become so intense and overwhelming, and in such a short period of time, that the results can almost immediately turn disastrous.
As drivers, are we going to find themselves overwhelmed by the bombardment of new technology commands such as audio warnings, alerts, tones, and visual cues, etc. Unless we take steps now to keep our minds sharp, we may find ourselves experiencing our own sort of ‘older driver information overload’ in the future.
Click here to read an article titled “Older Drivers and Emerging Vehicle Safety Technologies”
Tip #3: Control (or prevent!) Diabetes
The CDC estimates that 29 million people in the United States (9.3 percent of our population) have diabetes. Symptoms or complications of diabetes might make it difficult to drive safely. Depending on your diagnosis, licensing might require medical evaluations from a doctor, either before receiving your license or after. Diabetes can cause hypoglycemia, neuropathy in your hands or feet, all sorts of vision problems and in some cases, seizures or even a complete loss of consciousness.
Dr. Paul M. Rosman, DO, Board Certified Endocrinologist and personal contributor to Beyond Driving with Dignity; The workbook for older drivers and their families explains “Some people will continue to drive a vehicle even with recognizing that sugar levels are “a little low”. Medical research documents decreases in reaction time, motor responsiveness, and decision-making that occurs with lowered sugar levels.
Getting your diabetes under control and keeping it under control now will serve you very well as you attempt to extend your safe driving career years from now.
And one last thing to keep in mind…
Buy Your Next Home Based (in-part) on Local Transportation Options!
We are all familiar with the natural process of downsizing. Whether you’re staying in your home or downsizing to a smaller residence (locally or across the country), knowing your transportation options in advance is becoming more and more critical.
Leann Moore, owner of A Stress-Less Transition, LLC., serving the greater Tampa Bay area, is an expert on helping older adults downsize for their Golden Years. She reminds us that “As we prepare to downsize and relocate, it is important to consider your transportation options. Take the time to learn what options are available in the neighborhood you are considering.
Public transportation, door-to-door transportation services, private transportation companies (taxi, Uber and Lyft, etc.), and faith based transportation ministries may play an important role in helping you maintain your independence and quality of life. If you are considering moving into a retirement community, find out ahead of time if they offer transportation services as one of their amenities”.
Leann reminds us that “Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!”.
About the author: Matt Gurwell is founder of Keeping Us Safe, LLC, a national organization that provides practical, real-life solutions to older drivers and their families. Please visit their website at http://www.keepingussafe.org/ or 877-907-8841 for additional information on their programming.