Being forced to hang up the car keys for good is not only a harsh reality of aging, for many older drivers, especially those without reliable access to public transportation, it can also lead to social isolation stemming from a lack of independence. This sudden change in mobility can sometimes cause frustration and depression. But there are steps older adults can take to be able to drive safer for longer, and according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, exercise and good sleep habits are two of the top ways seniors can stay sharp behind the wheel.
As reported recently by Forbes, of the eight areas evaluated by researchers, regular exercise and a good sleep routine were the top two areas that most contributed to a reduction in driving time among older adults. In order to stay alert, seniors need to practice good sleep hygiene and preserve the physical function required to drive safely; to move freely enough to check blind spots and back up safely and to have the necessary strength and reaction time to brake and steer to avoid any hazards on the road or while parking.
Families and caregivers of older adults often struggle with how to broach the subject of driving safety with elderly parents or other loved ones. Losing the independence of being able to drive can lead to depression for older adults who are suddenly without transportation. Families can help ease this transition by developing a plan together, researching several alternative modes of transportation or setting limits on driving times and distances. Good communication and planning can help alleviate fear, resentment, anxiety and depression.
Older adults can help protect their ability to drive safely by getting between 2.5 and 5 hours of regular moderate exercise like brisk walking, cycling or swimming each week. Exercise that includes weight training and stretching can also help preserve the physical function, strength and flexibility necessary to stay safe behind the wheel. And a good night’s sleep, in a dark, cool, quiet room away from screens and distractions can help promote more restful sleep. Learn more about physical fitness for safer driving by following this link to SeniorDriving provided by AAA.