Quit driving

Published October 10, 2020, 8:37 PM

by Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.


Dr. Jose Pujalte, Jr.

“I don’t worry about getting old.  I’m old already.” —  George Burns (1896-1996), US entertainer

For many people, independence is symbolized by the freedom and ability to drive his or her own car. Some people who can afford chauffeuring may still want to drive by themselves occasionally. But for those aging and yet forced to drive to and from work, to drive to market, or bring the last teenaged daughter to PCR testing drive-through, there may be a few serious reasons for giving up getting in front of the wheel altogether.

Vision Problems.  Aging affects vision and hearing, two main requirements for fast reaction time in driving. Night vision deteriorates. A driver with vision problems can hit objects and may be unable to avoid people darting out of nowhere.  In particular, the driver can have:

  • Cataracts – or clouding of the lens of the eye. Obviously, this can cause cloudy or hazy vision and the sensitivity to light that comes with the condition makes night driving an ordeal
  • Glaucoma – or high pressure within the eyeball will cause problems with peripheral vision, another necessary component for normal driving
  • Macular degeneration – will affect central vision as retinal tissue deteriorates. This affects reaction to traffic lights and to pedestrians crossing in front of the driver.

Medical Problems. The chronic problems of aging such as arthritis, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease can make driving impossible and dangerous. Elderly people who insist on driving may not be fully aware of possible consequences. We’ve all heard of or read stories of cars suddenly plowing into sidewalks full of people.  If the driver isn’t a drunk or stoned teenager, he or she is usually a senior citizen who had a heart attack, a stroke, or an adverse reaction to medication followed by the obvious inability to drive.

  • Degenerative Arthritis – causes painful joints of the hands, the neck, the shoulders, hips and knees, usually. Driving-wise, decreased joint motion means slower movements in looking at the rear view mirror, looking from side-to-side to assess traffic both vehicular and pedestrian, and slower pumping of foot pedals for gas, clutch, and brakes.
  • Diabetes – as a chronic disease, the hands and feet may become numb leading to poor control of the steering wheel and foot pedals; any unforeseen drop in blood sugar on the road can lead to catastrophic dizziness or even loss of consciousness
  • Parkinson’s disease – causes involuntary shaking of the extremities which is disastrous in driving where steady hands and feet are a given.

Signs to Hand Over the Car Keys.  Before maiming or even killing innocent pedestrians or other drivers, there are signs to watch out for in finally deciding to give up driving:

  • Slow reaction time to traffic lights, whether “stop” or “go.”
  • Erratic and uncontrolled movements.
  • Failing vision.
  • Driving too slowly in the highway.
  • Becoming nervous in a traffic jam.
  • Losing attention most of the time.
  • Falling asleep at the wheel.

Protective Driving.  In general, driving can be made safer by:

  • Wearing a seat belt.
  • Avoiding alcohol if you are the designated driver.
  • Bringing along a younger relative or friend who knows how to drive.
  • Resting before driving.

Sooner or later, old people will have to give up driving. It should be a good idea to hire a driver or at least get someone to drive for important appointments.  Leave the stress of driving to other people. As the pandemic quarantine lifts, heavy traffic is once again upon our streets. Motorcycles are the new kings of the road. There are more people on bicycles now, too. Can you handle the new chaos?

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