Driving a personal vehicle is the primary means of transportation for most of us. It is deeply ingrained in our sense of independence, and there can be a stigma and uncertainty surrounding the use of public transportation. However, people with Parkinson’s often worry about when they should retire from driving. Driving is a complex task that demands full attention and a composed state of mind. While experience can make drivers better and safer, normal aging can introduce changes that diminish a person’s safety on the road. Drivers over 65 are twice as likely to have a medical condition that impairs their driving abilities. In Parkinson’s disease (PD) specifically, issues such as slowed reaction time, freezing episodes, limited head and neck mobility, and vision changes are common reasons to initiate the conversation about driving retirement.
Your physical activity plan for managing PD symptoms can also help you stay fit as a driver. Your fitness routine contributes to maintaining mobility, range of motion, speed of movement, strength, and flexibility. It is advisable to have an annual physical check-up with your doctor, and more frequently if you notice any changes. Addressing pain, fatigue, and joint issues is crucial, as they can also hinder your ability to maneuver a vehicle.
While vision changes are often apparent, it’s important to note that hearing loss can also compromise safety on the road. Parkinson’s can affect depth perception, cause double vision and blurry vision. Age-related cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma can impact night vision and peripheral vision. If you require hearing aids, make sure to wear them, especially when driving at night, high speeds, or on congested routes. It is crucial to utilize all your senses to anticipate and respond to situations on the road.
Cognitive tasks involved in driving from point A to point B are another area of concern. Review your medications with your doctor to determine if any of them might affect your alertness or thinking. Have a cognitive screening annually or when you notice changes. Discuss any other factors that could compromise your safety behind the wheel, such as mood issues and, of course, drug and alcohol use.
Concerns About Driving Abilities
If you have concerns about your driving abilities, be proactive and consider taking a refresher course through AAA. Assess your risk by using AAA’s Driver 65 Plus self-rating form. Taking a defensive driving course, such as AAA Roadwise Driver (available online), can also be helpful. Plan your trips in a way that minimizes risk. Additionally, seek an evaluation from a trained Occupational Therapist who can assess how well your vehicle suits your needs. As you lose height and face mobility limitations, it is important to adjust your seat and mirrors accordingly. An evaluator can provide recommendations for adaptive aids. There are numerous affordable gadgets available that can compensate for minor deficits.
Lastly, have an early conversation with your loved ones and develop an alternative transportation plan. Prepare yourself by becoming familiar with public transportation. Even a short-term disability, such as an injury, can occur unexpectedly and leave you stranded or reliant on others if you lack a plan.
Whether you are a driver or a passenger with a chronic medical condition, it is wise to keep some essential information on your person, in your wallet, or in the vehicle in case of emergencies. Include an alert about your condition, a list of medications you are taking, and emergency contact information. By managing your condition, staying in shape, and addressing any concerns, you can remain in control behind the wheel for a long time.
- AAA online resources: www.exchange.aaa.com
- Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety: www.roadsafeseniors.org
- AARP Smart Driver Online Course: https://www.aarpdriversafety.org/