Fergus Falls Optometric Center
"Family Eyecare from the Eyecare Family."
Dr. Mark D. Olmsted and Dr. Christine A. Olmsted
117 E. Lincoln Ave.
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Appointments: 218-736-7555

Senior Vision & Road Risks - 14 Feb 2005

Senior Vision & Road Risks
14 Feb 2005

Senior Vision & Road RisksOne's ability to remain self-sufficient is a very important and valued part of our lives. This becomes even more valuable as one gets older and requires assistance. Driving a car ends up being one of those touchy areas when the safety of the driver and the public vs. independence of the driver come into conflict.

Few people plan ahead in regard to the eventual loss of driving privileges. It seems that even fewer give up driving voluntarily. According to AARP, there is a very high rate of accidents and deaths per mile driven by senior citizens, second only to the youngest age group of new drivers. In some cases poor vision is a factor.

Adult children and friends, while often reluctant to butt heads with their loved ones, must help to watch for warning signs of driving problems. Some examples include:

1) Slow reaction time to streetlights or pedestrians.

2) Drifting across lanes.

3) Close calls or actual accidents.

4) Scratches and dents on bumpers or fenders, from parking difficulty.

5) Braking too early or too slowly.

6) Inappropriate speeds, whether too fast or too slow for the situation.

Also visual difficulties during driving should be taken note of, such as:

1) Complaints about vision or eyewear.

2) Tilting up or down to find the best area of the glasses to use.

3) Complaints of glare, especially during night driving.

4) Squinting, especially in hazy weather or during transitional lighting such as dusk.

5) Known eye problems such as cataracts, macular degeneration, etc.

Some tips for drivers in their golden years.

1) Get a comprehensive eye exam annually. Things that will be checked include peripheral vision, eye health and visual acuity. Be sure to inform your eye doctor of the medications that you are taking, as some may affect the vision or eyes in ways not expected by the patient. Update your best glasses correction if needed.

2) If eye problems such as cataracts are present, but too early for surgery, consider voluntarily driving only in daylight, as cataracts cause extra glare when there is less light and the pupils dilate. If macular degeneration drops one's best attainable visual acuity to below 20/50 or so, consider voluntarily riding rather than driving.

3) Not all driving difficulties are vision related. Have the hearing checked. Have a physical. If one's reaction time, reflexes, or mobility are starting to affect driving, consider driving less, if at all.

4) Decrease vision hurdles by keeping eyeglasses, windshields, mirrors and headlights clean.

5) Use headlights day and night and in all weather situations. Have the headlights' aim checked twice per year when getting an oil change.

6) Turn your head when looking at rearview mirrors, changing lanes or backing up. Peripheral vision sometimes is not as good as it once was, especially if strokes may have robbed part of this aspect of our vision.

7) Strongly consider voluntarily attending AARP's 55 Alive driving courses. They will show you ways to help prevent accidents in the last years of driving.

Don't be like my late Grandpa, who stubbornly refused to stop driving even though he was

having trouble with his balance and vision. He sped through the wrong lane of a road construction site and rolled his vehicle, striking and gashing his head. Luckily nobody in the area was hit and Grandpa was not seriously hurt, but he was taken to the hospital for observation. Two of his "visitors" were State Troopers who issued him some traffic violations while he lay in bed. This accident only ended up costing him his license to drive and not his life. This could have been much more serious and would have been prevented if he had only put his judgment before his pride.

Dr. Mark D. Olmsted