According to the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) Eye-Q survey, 78% of adults aged 55 report experiencing some vision loss. However, many ignore the signs until the condition is more severe.
Barbara L. Horn, O.D., president of the AOA, says, “At age 60 and older, patients should pay attention to any warning signs related to vision loss. Many age-related eye conditions start slowly with little or no early symptoms and individuals only notice it once the condition is more advanced. Age-related eye conditions make driving dangerous and should never be ignored.”
Common Eye Conditions That Affect Seniors
Eyesight naturally deteriorates as we get older, and this can affect our ability to read road signs, drive at night, and cope with the glare from the sun or oncoming headlights. In some cases, poor vision is due to certain age-related eye conditions. If you’re over 60, here are five common eye conditions to be aware of.
Cataracts are one of the most common age-related eye conditions. Cataracts cause a gradual clouding of the lens that slowly reduces vision. It’s a condition that can be easily remedied with a cataract operation that replaces the bad lens with an artificial lens.
Dry eyes is a chronic condition in which the eye produces too few tears. Tears help maintain the overall health of the eye and contribute to clear vision. Driving with dry eyes exacerbates the glare from the sun, snow, and night lights. The best way to manage the condition is by using artificial tears to lubricate the eye.
Glaucoma is a serious eye condition causes progressive damage to the optic nerve. It initially affects your peripheral vision and, if left untreated, will eventually lead to blindness. If you’re experiencing blurred vision or halos around lights, see an eye care specialist immediately.
According to the AAA, age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans 65 and older. Macular degeneration affects the sharpness of your central vision. It makes it hard to see road signs, traffic, and pedestrians clearly. In the early stages, you will be able to drive with macular degeneration, but eventually, the condition will progress to the point where driving is no longer possible.
Diabetic retinopathy causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina. This results in blurry vision, dark patches, floaters, and impaired color vision. At its most severe, it can cause blindness. If you are diabetic, maintain the right lifestyle to decrease your chances of developing diabetic retinopathy when you are older.
Tips on Safe Driving After 60
Schedule Regular Eye Tests
As you age, regular eye examinations are important to identify problems early and take measures to correct or manage it. People over 60 should go for a test at least once a year. If you have no health insurance or can’t afford to pay for an eye test, EyeCare America offers free eye tests to seniors.
While you don’t have to cruise down the highway at a snail's pace, if your vision is compromised, you need to slow down. Drive at a speed you’re comfortable with that allows you to better judge the situation around you.
Be Cautious at Intersections
Barbara Horn says many collisions involving older drivers occur at intersections due to a failure to yield, especially when taking a left turn. “Look carefully in both directions before moving into an intersection. Turn your head frequently when driving to compensate for a reduced peripheral vision."
Avoid Nighttime Driving
As we age, our pupils shrink and don’t dilate as much to let light in and the cornea and lens become less clear. That’s why it becomes more difficult to drive at night as we become older. If you struggle to drive at night, it's best to avoid it as much as possible.
Take Medication Into Consideration
Many older people are on medication that can impair their driving ability. If you take medication, ask your doctor about the side effects. Drug-impaired driving coupled with poor vision is a recipe for disaster.
Take a Senior Driving Course
Most older people dread the day they have to stop driving as it signals the end of their independence. You can delay that day for a while longer by taking a senior driving course. A senior driving course will refresh your driving skills, teach you additional defensive driving skills, and discuss how aging affects driving.
When Should You Stop Driving?
There’s no set date to hang up your car keys. It depends on your overall health. Illnesses, medication, mobility and coordination problems, and poor vision may mean you need to stop driving sooner. However, if you’re still in good health at 80, there’s no reason you cannot continue to drive for a few more years.