Explosion of Older Drivers Pressures Eye Care Professionals to Make Tough Calls
Few eye care providers consider themselves the most-qualified to identify unsafe drivers, few report unsafe drivers
Aug. 23, 2011 – With baby boomers pouring into the senior citizen ranks, and the oldest Americans living longer and
healthier lives, the drivers over age 65 is the fastest growing segment of drivers. This explosion of older drivers is challenging the
ophthalmologists and optometrists, who are the deciders when it comes to determining the visual abilities for driving of America’s oldest
A new study from the University of Michigan finds that the majority of eye care providers feel it's their responsibility
to ask senior patients about driving, and most do it routinely.
They test visual acuity and peripheral vision but often do fail to ask about other factors - such as medical conditions
or medications - that might affect the ability to drive.
Inquiries about glare, driving at night and reading signs were very common (87 percent) but questions about challenging
driving situations—merging or backing up—or the patient's driving record were very infrequent (8 percent).
Many eye care providers (81 percent) stress that certain resources—driving assessment guidelines, clinical screening
instruments and a patient self-evaluation tool—would help them in assessing the driving capabilities of their senior patients, and help to
address higher accident rates for older drivers.
David C. Musch, Ph.D., M.P.H., Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan, led the multidisciplinary team. The
study was supported by a grant from M-CASTL, a unit of the U-M Transportation Research Institute. that surveyed how 500 vision care providers
in Michigan assess the driving capabilities of their senior patients.
"We've identified a need and a desire on the part of vision care professionals to help," says Dr. Musch, who cites
research indicating that when seniors lose the ability to drive, there are consequences. These individuals have higher rates of depression and
social isolation, more limited access to health care services, and are more likely to need long-term care.
"Our goal is to intervene and work with our patients in modifying their driving habits. This will allow them to drive
appropriately and maintain their independence," Musch says.
While most eye care providers feel confident in their ability to determine whether vision is adequate for safe driving,
few consider themselves the most-qualified professional to identify unsafe drivers.
Only a small number of eye care providers (8 percent) communicate driving concerns with the patient's primary care
physician or refer patients to driving rehabilitation specialists or driving school. And, when asked about reporting unsafe drivers, some
common concerns were negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship, liability issues, doctor-patient confidentiality and patient's
quality of life.
Still, eye care providers are among the most important professionals in seniors' health care, and they need to be on the
lookout for seniors who may need special attention, says Dr. Musch.
Identifying and providing effective resources to eye care providers to aid them in evaluating and assisting patients is
the next step in the process, he adds.
More Links to Archived Reports on
Senior Citizens and Driving