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Aging News & Information

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 drivers.

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.

 

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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

Families Should Check Driving Ability of Senior Citizens During Family Holidays

Consumer Reports Health offers tips for determining when to take the keys away from an older driver - Dec. 7, 2010


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CDC Study Finds Cost amounts to nearly $500 for each U.S. licensed driver in one year - Aug. 28, 2010


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However, older drivers claim other road users were responsible for putting them at risk and rarely considered themselves as responsible for hazardous events

May 26, 2010


AMA Issues Older Driver Safety Guide to Help Slow Leading Cause of Injury Deaths in Seniors

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