11/21/2017

Some of the changes drivers experience as they get older can affect their ability to drive safely. Changes and the decline in eyesight, physical fitness, and reflexes are evitable, however, the capacity to keep physically and mentally fit may prolong their ability to drive safely. As people get older, people begin to lose their capacity to do physical activity more quickly than those who remain active. So the key is to keep moving.

Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to produce positive results. Effective exercise programs should do three things: challenge your heart and lungs aerobically, stretch and strengthen your muscles, and loosen your joints to help with flexibility. Brisk walking, routine housework and gardening are some examples of body exercises older drivers can perform routinely.

Research has shown that higher levels of fitness programs among seniors were associated with better driving performance. These exercise and stretch fitness programs improves the neck, shoulder, trunk, back and overall body flexibility.

Flexibility permits drivers to move the entire body and all joints more freely to observe the road from all angles. This can help alert them to potential hazards in unexpected areas on the road and with many driving requirements, such as:

  • Braking
  • Getting in and out of the car
  • Looking to the side and rear
  • Steering
  • Parking the car
  • Adjusting the safety belts
  • Sitting for long periods of time

Good flexibility also helps improve posture and prevent fatigue while driving. However, physical fitness is only part of the solution to older drivers driving safely on the road. Mental fitness has a large part in road safety.

While older minds may be just as sharp as younger ones, they often react more slowly. On average, the human brain begins to slow down slightly beginning around age 30. Getting older doesn’t have to result in rapid cognitive decline if you exercise your mind.

As you age, it takes your brain more time to process information, decide how to handle it and take action. Each step takes longer, and possibly so long that it becomes dangerous on the roadway. Using problem-solving skills, even in non-driving ways, can help improve your mental fitness and flexibility. When choosing a mental fitness activity, keep three things in mind: variety, challenge and novelty.

  • Variety- Mastering a new skill gets easier with time and practice, so introduce some variety. By changing things up on a regular basis, your mental fitness will have to work harder to adapt to the exercise or activity. This is similar to “circuit training” during physical exercise routines.
  • Challenge- Never let a task become too easy. Expose yourself to mental activities with increasing levels of challenge or difficulty.
  • Novelty- Try new mental activities, since very important parts of the brain (e.g., prefrontal cortex) are mostly exercised when you learn to master new cognitive challenges.

Many older drivers depend greatly on their personal vehicle for transportation. They suffer a marked loss of quality of life when their mobility becomes significantly restricted, as a result of being no longer able or permitted to drive.

As drivers get older, it becomes even more important to engage in physical and mental exercises to enhancing several perceptive, cognitive, physical, and health factors associated with driving performance, so that they can maintain driving privileges longer and stay independent.

Resources:

AAASenoirDriving. http://seniordriving.aaa.com/

Daryl Nelson. (2013, March 12) How to Exercise and Stay fit when You’re a Senior. https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/how-to-exercise-and-stay-fit-when-youre-a-senior-031213.html