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September 4, 2007 > Driving Longevity: Keeping Fit to Keep the Keys

Driving Longevity: Keeping Fit to Keep the Keys

Free Health & Wellness Seminar Sheds Light on Driving Safety for Seniors

In America, driving a vehicle is not just a way to get from one place to another. It frequently means something about who we are and how we conduct our lives. If we lose the ability to drive, we're losing more than just transportation. Many people will not be able to drive their entire lives. Thanks to improvements in health care, most of us will live many years beyond our ability to drive safely.

Shawn Fong, MSW, a social worker who manages the City of Fremont's Paratransit Program, will explain how age-related changes can affect driving abilities at a free Health and Wellness seminar on Wednesday, September 12, from 10 a.m. to noon. The seminar, sponsored by Washington Hospital Senior Care, will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A, B & C in the Washington West building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Fong has extensive knowledge of mobility and transportation issues that affect seniors. She will discuss safe driving strategies for older adults and share information on how to access local community transportation resources.

"A significant portion of our community is entering their retirement years and as a result there are many more seniors on the road now than in years past. Studies show that seniors are going to outlive their driving ability by 7 to 10 years," says Fong. "There is a community wide effort currently underway to address the needs of older drivers and to support seniors in staying safe on the road."

During her presentation, Fong will highlight factors such as vision, physical ability, cognitive (mental) ability and use of medications, which can affect a senior's driving abilities. Here are some tips for older drivers:

Vision - Have your eyes tested annually
About 90 percent of the information required for driving safety relates to vision. Normal aging affects a number of eye functions key to older drivers seeing objects on and near the roadway. Conditions that affect vision and appear more frequently with age include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, among others.

Physical Ability - Physical fitness and exercise improve driving ability
Driving a car requires strength and agility to depress the brake and gas pedals, turn the steering wheel and even to enter and exit the vehicle. Head and neck flexibility is essential for looking over the shoulder, lane changes, and looking left or right to check for traffic. Reaching for a safety belt requires a certain range of motion in the shoulders and the driver must have the endurance to physically perform and be able to react quickly.

Cognitive (Mental) Ability - Mental alertness contributes to driving fitness
Maintaining mental agility as one grows older is as important as maintaining physical agility. Intellectual and mental stimulation can protect against cognitive decline. Playing cards and games can help seniors stay sharp.

Medication - Knowing the effects of medication on driving alertness
Some medications can affect alertness and vision. Medication side effects such as drowsiness may influence the ability to focus on driving. It's important to encourage older drivers to speak with their prescribing physicians or pharmacists about the effect of their multiple medications on driving.

Retiring from driving - creating a plan
Driving depends more on how we function than on how old we are. Just as people plan for retirement from work, seniors also need to plan for possible retirement from driving.

"Seniors and their friends and families need to be proactive about discussing driving issues. It's always easier if people talk about driving safety and transportation alternatives before a problem or crisis occurs," says Fong. "Older adults often worry about becoming homebound or isolated if they stop driving voluntarily or are forced to give up the keys. Our goal is to help seniors assess their driving abilities and modify their driving habits to compensate for functional changes they experience as they get older. We also want to dispel the fear seniors have about losing their independence once they stop driving and to see that other transportation options can keep them engaged in community activities and services."

Fong will also discuss community transportation alternatives available to seniors such as public transit (buses, BART), paratransit and private transportation (ride-share services and taxis).

To register for the upcoming seminar, please call (800) 963-7070. For more information about the upcoming seminar or other classes offered at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com, click on "For Our Community" and select "Health Classes & Support Groups" from the drop-down menu.

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