Improving Road Safety for Seniors

Written by Sally Perkins

Retirement is a great time in which to pursue your passion, and without a doubt, driving could be one of them. According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, there are approximately 40 million licenced drivers aged 65 or over, which is great news for those wishing to remain mobile. Although it is true that age can bring about an increased risk of some types of accidents and injuries, simply being aware of these risks is an excellent way to continue to enjoy the independence that driving can offer. In this post, we highlight pertinent statistics to senior drivers and share ways to boost safety and enjoyment on the road.

Which Groups are at Risk of Accidents?

The risk of being involved in a fatal crash starts to increase among drivers aged 70 to 74, and is highest in those aged 85 or older. This is one reason why coverage for senior drivers tends to be higher. Interestingly, the statistics are not as simple as they seem. That is, the percentages can be attributed to an increased susceptibility and medical complications rather than to an increased risk of car crashes in over 65s. Males have a higher risk of fatal crashes than females. Some of the abilities that can increase one’s risk include vision problems and a decline (if relevant) in cognitive functioning (reasoning and memory).

Key Points Regarding Driver Safety among Seniors

Some issues that can affect seniors’ ability to drive safely include the fact that 80% of people in their 70s suffer from arthritis/joint inflammation, which can make specific movements which are necessary for driving (including turning and twisting) painful. Weaker muscles and reduced flexibility, meanwhile, can limit one’s ability to grip and turn the steering wheel, press the foot pedals, or reach for the doors or windows. Taking medication can also have an impact on driving ability. If you look at the statistics per person, seniors are less involved in accidents than younger brothers. However, if you look at the accident rate per mile, the rate is equally high in both groups.

Driving Errors Differ according to Age

Older drivers are actually more careful. They have a lower percentage of risks on bends and while overtaking, than those in their 50s. Seniors tend to have slower, more conservative, cautious driving styles. They are less inclined to take part in speeding, overtaking, zigzagging, and they are less likely to fail to comply with police instructions. However, they can be more prone to making errors that can lead to a crash, particularly in intersections on 60/70 mph roads. They can also be at fault in accidents having to do with right of way.

CDC Recommendations

In order to reduce driver deaths and injuries, the CDC recommends using seatbelts rigorously. It is also important for seniors to drive during the day (when visibility is better) and when the weather is optimal for this activity. They could also consider avoiding high-speed roads, when quick lane changing and faster reflexes may be necessary to avoid an accident. Drinking is a no-no, as it is for all age groups. Around 20% of drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking.

Additional Strategies to Reduce Accident Risks

It is vital for seniors to be aware of the specific risks they face, and those they may pose. Thus, family members can help them practice key skills such as negotiating intersections. Seniors can also make it a point to leave a large distance with the car in front, and make an extra effort to ensure they are driving within their lane at all times. Older drivers should go for regular assessments, to make sure they are wearing appropriate vision wear if glasses or contact lenses are required. Their eyesight in particular should be tested at least once a year. Seniors should also let their doctor know they are driving, so they can be informed if any medication they are taking may affect their driving abilities.

Finally, they should use GPS technology to study routes; streetview is an excellent way for seniors to know where they need to turn off or which exit they need to take. Planning before taking a route one is unfamiliar with is important, as is picking the best time of the day to travel. Distractions such as mobile phones and loud music or radios should be avoided, and if possible, public transport or carpooling should be considered for complicated or far routes.

When is it Time to Stop Driving?

Although many seniors need their vehicles to get around and complete tasks, it is important to know when it might be of interest to use public transport or to rely on family and friends. Signs include getting lost frequently, having frequent ‘close calls’, having difficulty reading signs or hearing sirens and other cues, and failing to obey traffic lights, signs, etc. Many local governments provide low cost transport for over 65s.

If you love driving, there is no reason why you cannot continue to do so after retirement. Being honest with oneself is key, since our safety and that of others is at stake. Yearly eye appointments, GPS technology, practicing key techniques such as negotiating intersections, and talking to our doctor about side-effects of any medication one may be taking can go a long way towards making driving a pleasurable and safe experience.

Ways to Stay Safe as You Age

Written by Becky Wilcox

Most of us don’t want to think about getting older — especially the ways in which we might get frailer. We want to think of ourselves as strong and independent forever. But the reality is that we will get weaker as we age. Our bones will become more brittle, we will lose muscle mass, and we might even lose cognitive function. We’ll be a little more wobbly and a lot more prone to injury.

Rather than ignoring that reality and setting ourselves up for serious injury, we should be making plans to make our homes as safe as they can be so that we can live independently for as long as possible. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you stay safe as you age:

Invest in Mobility Aides

A simple fall can lead to a major injury when you are older and your bones are weaker. You could break a bone just slipping off the last stair or you could even break a hip if you fall. If you have stairs in your home, you should invest in a residential elevator to be on the safe side. It will also help you if you have something heavy to carry up or down the stairs. You should definitely install mobility aides in the bathroom, where you are most likely to fall. Put a handrail in the tub or shower, and put one next to the toilet. If your joints are feeling creaky, you might even consider adding a toilet seat or a shower seat (or both). Don’t let your pride get in the way of your safety!

Address Slippery Surfaces

Loss of mobility isn’t the only reason you might have a fall. Slippery surfaces can lead to a hard landing even when you otherwise feel steady on your feet. Take care of these surfaces both inside and outside your home to reduce your chance of a slip and fall.

Replace slippery stone paths outside, or rough them up with some sand or salt. Put down friction strips on outside stone or wood stairs as these can get slippery when wet. Put mats inside and outside your doorways to catch water. Use runners and rugs throughout your home on other slippery stretches of flooring. Put friction strips inside your tub and shower.

Add Bumpers to Furniture Corners

Not only will your bones weaken as you get older, but your skin will also be a lot more delicate. It may seem like it hardly takes any pressure at all for your skin to bruise or bleed. If you knock into the corner of a piece of furniture, you are likely to get a serious injury.

Add bumpers to all sharp corners, including on tables, consoles, window ledges, and fireplaces. Also, take time to have your furniture re-arranged so you have more open pathways to move around your home.

Install a Home Security System

Some threats will come from outside your home. You may have taken care of every risk for a fall or injury in your home, but you can’t control whether someone else will try to break in and take your things or hurt you. However, you can install a home security system so that you get help as quickly as possible if someone does enter.

In many cases, would-be robbers will be deterred if they see that you have a security system installed. They don’t want the trouble of the alarm sounding. They would much rather go to a house with no alarm and take what they want undetected. Even if they break in, they are more likely to run off if they hear an alarm.

Getting older is inevitable. You can’t prevent it, but you can plan for it. Besides investing in your retirement and getting the right health care, you can ensure that you have a safe and happy retirement by making your home as safe as possible. Following these tips will help you reduce your risk of injury or harm from others. Nothing will reduce your risk to zero, but these smart strategies will certainly lower your number of visits to the emergency room and will add many years to life.

Coping With Sleep Disorders Among Seniors

Written by Amy Highland

Aging is often associated with increased instances of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and depression, but one of the most prevalent issues for seniors is insomnia. Seniors need seven to nine hours of sleep just like other adults, but many find themselves up several times during the night or waking too early. You may face some unique sleep challenges because of the aging human body. However, once aware of these issues, you can work to implement habits that will improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest.

Age and Sleep

Circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur on a regular 24-hour cycle, control the sleep-wake cycle. Circadian rhythms are heavily influenced by light expo       sure but can also be adjusted through behavior. Special receptors in the eyes called ganglion absorb the blue light that helps regulate circadian rhythms. Over time, changes in the eye such as narrowing pupils and yellowing of the lens can alter the sleep-wake cycle.

Seniors often experience circadian rhythm disruptions due to changes in the eyes. A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology explored the decrease in photo receptivity in the aging eye. Researchers noted that a 10-year-old child’s eye will absorb 10 times the amount of light as that of a 95-year-old. It was found that a decrease in pupil area and changes in light absorption resulted in a progressive loss of the eye’s ability to absorb the light necessary to regulate circadian rhythms. Another study found that patients who’d undergone cataract surgery experienced a better sleep-wake cycle due to the lightening of the eye lens, which allowed more light to regulate their rhythms.

But, but all sleep disorders in seniors do not stem from circadian rhythm problems. Seniors are also at higher risk for disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder. Because of growing medical needs, many seniors may be taking medications that interfere with the sleep cycle including antidepressants, anticholinergics, and blood pressure medications.

The Road to Better Sleep

Though seniors face many challenges to getting a good night’s rest, a few behavior changes along with a proper diagnosis of any underlying problems can increase sleep quality. You can also help yourself rest better by:

  • Nighttime Comfort: Seniors often have body aches and pains that get in the way of good sleep. Be sure your mattress offers enough support and is appropriate for your preferred sleep position and weight. This simple change can often reduce nighttime pain.
  • Increasing Natural Light Exposure: Spending more time in natural light can help increase the among of blue light absorbed. It’s this blue light that regulates the circadian rhythms.
  • Using Bright Light Therapy: For some seniors, it can be difficult to get natural light exposure due to mobility issues or weather. Bright light therapy uses a special bulb the gives off light similar to sunlight. Exposure in the morning helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Exercising Regularly: Regular exercise helps to tire out the muscles. It’s also a good opportunity to get outside and increase your natural light exposure.
  • Avoiding Daytime Naps: Excessive daytime tiredness in seniors often results in several daytime naps. While a short nap of 30 to 45 minutes can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation, much longer than that and you could be disrupting your sleep-wake cycle.

Changing habits can take time, but with consistency and effort, you can give yourself a better chance to get the rest you need for improved physical, mental, and emotional health.