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Strategies for Staying Behind the Wheel as Long as Possible

For most people, the ability to drive gives you a sense of freedom. As you get older, hanging onto your driver's license becomes extremely important to many people. Being able to drive—simply getting around doing errands—seems to have health benefits as well. Research last summer showed that seniors who stay behind the wheel are less likely to enter nursing homes and assisted-living centers.

The undeniable truth is that you do experience vision changes and physical changes as you age, and these can affect your driving ability. Here are some ways you can keep yourself behind the wheel safely:

—Make sure your visibility is good. This means wearing your glasses if you're supposed to when you're driving, having your vision checked regularly (at least once a year), making sure your windshields are clear and clean and sitting high enough in your seat so that you can see at least 10 feet in front of the end of your car.

—See your doctor if you have pain and decreased flexibility in your neck and shoulder. This stiffness and pain can impair your reflexes, but your doctor may be able to recommend a fitness and stretching program, maybe even physical therapy, that could improve your flexibility. An occupational therapist or driving rehabilitation specialist may be able to prescribe special equipment that can help you reach the pedals, turn the steering wheel, etc.

—Maximize your hearing by limiting noise from the radio, conversations with passengers and by keeping your windows up, if possible, to avoid hearing the wind rushing by, which can be distracting

—Sit 10 inches away from your steering wheel to limit injury from the air bag.

—Always know your route ahead of time. If possible, use only roads you're familiar with. Consider staying off the roads at night.

—Intersections and left turns can be challenging. When you come to an intersection, be sure to look at the roads on either side of you, not just at the road ahead. If left turns give you trouble, there's nothing wrong with avoiding them by turning right a few times to get to the same place.

—If the people who care about you begin to mention that they worry about your driving, it's a good idea not to ignore them. Instead, take action. Talk with your doctor about your family's concerns. Enroll in a driving class for seniors. Your local senior center will have information about where you can sign up for these classes.

For more in-depth information about things you can do to stay on the road, read the online brochure, "Driving Safely while Aging Gracefully." (

The American Journal of Public Health; The American Association of Retired Persons; National Highway Traffic Association

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