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Medical Conditions that can put the Brakes on a Senior's Driving Days

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North American drivers, age 70 and older, are still very active on the road, with nearly two-thirds (63%) of surveyed seniors driving three to five days a week, and more than half (56%) of surveyed seniors averaging more than 25 miles per week, according to research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead® network.

When it comes to driving, there are a number of strategies that can help keep older adults safer on the road. In fact, many seniors can continue to drive safely into their later senior years. It’s not until certain medical problems come down the pike that seniors may need to give up the car keys.

“Age, including into the higher 80s, has nothing to do with the capacity to drive,” said Elin Schold Davis, Project Coordinator, Older Driver Initiative, American Occupational Therapy Association. “It does have to do with changes in vision, physical skills such as the ability to reach, turn and work the pedals, and cognitive capabilities such as recalling the rules of the road, making decisions and navigating.”

Whether a senior can continue driving or not may come down to the amount of time it takes to make important decisions on the road. “Driving is the one IADL (Instrumental Activity of Daily Living) that cannot be modified beyond a certain point,” Schold Davis said. “There is a time component. For example, a senior with declining physical abilities can take all day to get dressed. They can modify the process and take the time needed to get it done. But you can’t take all day to make a left-hand turn when driving.”

According to experts, the most important abilities for drivers are:

  • Vision;

  • Physical abilities, including reaching, turning and working the pedals; and

  • Cognitive abilities, including understanding the rules of the road, making decisions and navigating.

BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals save their mind and sight by supporting research to end Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration and glaucoma, highlights the following issues that could put older adults in particular jeopardy on the road:

Alzheimer’s Disease

Over time, people with Alzheimer’s disease will likely begin to lose faculties vital for driving, including reflexes, coordination, reaction time, eyesight, hearing, judgment, and the ability to orient themselves.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye disease that causes deterioration of the macula, the tissue located in the central part of the retina.

AMD causes blurriness and blind spots in the middle of a person’s field of vision. This results in dependence on peripheral vision, seeing things out of the corner of the eye while looking straight ahead. Peripheral vision often lacks sharpness and clarity, and is not sufficient for driving.


In contrast to AMD, the various forms of glaucoma are more likely to initially cause problems with peripheral vision. Drivers with peripheral vision loss may have trouble noticing traffic signs on the side of the road or seeing cars and pedestrians about to cross their path. As glaucoma progresses, central vision also becomes impaired.

Medication Usage

Medication usage typically increases in older adults, which may increase the chances of medications affecting their driving. Many drugs have adverse side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, hazy vision, unsteadiness, fainting and slowed reaction time. Common medications that may cause side effects include sleep aids, antidepressants, antihistamines for allergies and colds and strong painkillers.

Also, taking several different drugs together may create serious side effects. Many commonly prescribed drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease also have side effects. Consult with a physician before the start of any drug treatment regimen to determine how it may affect your senior loved one’s driving ability.

Having a particular medical condition does not necessarily mean a loved one will have to stop driving. However, it’s very important that you pay close attention to how well your loved one drives. If you or someone you know is concerned about a senior’s driving, talk to a doctor and consider recommending a driving test or evaluation. Also, check out the Safe Driving Planner for help and resources.

For more information about how medications can affect a senior, visit the “Let’s Talk About Rx℠” resources here on®.

Last revised: April 18, 2016

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 5, 2017 at 8:04 am | Posted by Jack

    It is very important to provide safety to senior driver. First of all, more often remind about a seat belt and attention on the road, take care of your parents in advance and buy them a medical alert bracelet. He can save their lives. You can buy with a drop detector, for example like this Or a bit easier such as this You can buy a phone for parents, where there is a button that, when pressed, immediately makes a call to the previously specified number


  2. January 17, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Posted by Janice Moorhead

    Have you heard about Para Transit? Almost every county has it. You apply, they pick you up at your door, take you wherever you're going and pick you up there when you are done. You have to make some concessions as you, it will never be as convenient as hopping in your car, but you shouldn't be hopping in your car. Maturity and wisdom required, which we are all supposed to have as we age.


  3. May 4, 2016 at 11:58 am | Posted by Debby Egle

    My mother is 89 years old. She has a heart condition, macular degeneration and has trouble hearing even with her hearing aids yet the State of Indiana just renewed her drivers licenses. How she passes the eye test is beyond me. I feel that the State should also give a driving test to everybody over the age of 70 as well as a hearing test. She said she would stop driving when she felt unsafe. My brother and I have had several conversations with her regarding this and it's like talking to a wall. I'm not only concerned for her safety but that of others and first responders. (I.e. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles). What can we do short of making her mad at us by just taking her keys away? We both live out of town but have been in contact with a rep from Home Instead. Of course she says she doesn't need any help! What can we do? Thanks for your help.


    • May 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Posted by s.Oxley

      If you live out of town that could be part of the problem. Us seniors do not like to ask for favors. Like---- Can you take me to the grocery store-the doctor etc From our friends. Public transportation is tough on older people . Waiting in the rain for the bus is no fun. Lugging the package from the bus stop is no fun either. some are not financially able to afford car service or taxis... And sitting in the house for endless days is depressing.. Just a few things to think about.


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