Recent figures from the DVLA show that the number of people in the UK aged over 90 with a driving licence topped the 100,000 figure for the first time since records started. In addition, the figures also reveal that 4.5 million people over the age of 70 also hold a driving licence.
We all undergo physical and mental changes as we grow older. Recognising and understanding these changes is important if you are the driver of a motor vehicle. In addition to the physical and mental changes, as we grow older there are a number of medical conditions that may impact our ability to drive a vehicle. One, in particular, can have a significant impact, cataract surgery. It is estimated that 330,000 operations per year in England alone are performed and 10% of people aged over 65 have already had cataract surgery.
Has age caught you up?
Growing old is just a natural part of our lifecycle and the changes our bodies go through with the advancement of time is beyond our control. Many drivers continue to use their vehicles well beyond the age of 70. The Automobile Association (AA) estimate that by 2030 over 90% of men over the age of 70 will be behind the wheel.
It is sensible to stop and re-evaluate your own ability to continue driving as you get older. Self-awareness is important, if you feel uncomfortable driving, you should stop and discuss it through with your family and your GP.
Types of changes – physical and mental
Physical changes are the more obvious to notice, although some of these can be gradual over a long period of time. This makes acknowledgement of these changes more difficult to accept. Changes to your vision. Even if you do not wear prescribed glasses you may experience problems in low light or at night; glare from approaching vehicles; locating objects in your peripheral vision; and judgement of distances.
Changes to your hearing. Will make it difficult to detect sirens from approaching emergency vehicles; other car users horns; and warning sounds from inside your own vehicle. Decreased strength and flexibility. This may manifest itself as joint pain or inflammation that restricts movement; checking your blind spot, and making steering more difficult.
Mental changes that may impact senior drivers include: decreased reaction time may impact your ability to process lots of information quickly; reduced attention span that may cause loss of concentration; and, a cognitive ability that may reduce the ability to remember such things as your destination or the meaning of road signs.
The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) suggests that older drivers may benefit from a refresher driving course. This can reassure older drivers who may have concerns about their driving abilities.
Medical Reasons – cataract surgery
There are a number of medical conditions that can impact our ability to operate a vehicle including: dementia, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Cataracts in one or both eyes can impact your ability to drive.
There is plenty of statistical evidence that confirms a vast improvement in eyesight for cataract patients. However, there are a number of drivers who are unable or limited to in their nighttime driving following cataract surgery. The problem is linked to the type of lens used to replace the natural lens. Intraocular lenses Lens (IOL) are smaller than the natural lens in the eye. Following surgery, this can lead to glare or a halo effect. This is because light entering the eye is picked up by the edge of the IOL.
This halo effect can make it almost impossible to drive a vehicle at night. The problem is compounded by the other possible health and mental changes that some older drivers experience.
If you have had cataract surgery and are experiencing glare or halo issues these should be discussed with your GP or healthcare professional.
At some point, we all must stop and consider our own safety and the safety of other road users. This may be due to one single event like cataract surgery or more likely, it will be as a result of a number of different factors. The important thing to remember is that you are the best person to make that important judgement call.