Driving safely in later life

Out of sight, not out of mind

A blog post by Optometry Scotland

As we age, the lens inside our eye can undergo changes. It becomes less flexible, affecting our near focus, and can also become ‘cloudy’ or less transparent – this is known as a cataract. More than 95% of cataracts are age related, making it a primary eyecare concern for pensioners and over sixties.

Understandably, this can take a toll on our ability to drive. If the lens is becoming hazy, low contrast vision is usually the first to be affected. This can mean that driving in dull, cloudy conditions or at night becomes much harder.

The development of cataracts can also worsen the effect of glare from oncoming headlights which can be uncomfortable and distracting when driving in the dark. In sunny conditions, glare directly from the sun or indirectly from reflections can also interfere with driving vision.

Ultimately, changes or deterioration in vision make driving more difficult, and at times, more dangerous. With an aging population across Scotland, we need to consider how to keep communities safe while ensuring we help maintain the independence of all drivers, regardless of age. So, what can we do to keep ourselves, and others, safe on the roads?

Here are five pieces of advice that over sixties can follow to ensure they meet fitness to drive standards:

  1. Regular eye checks. It’s incredibly common for an individual’s vision to change or deteriorate over time. These changes are often gradual, and difficult to detect in their early stages, meaning receiving eye examinations at least once every two years is crucial to maintaining your eye health and ensuring your eyesight meets driving standards.
  2. Reporting conditions. It’s a legal requirement in the UK to report certain health conditions to the DVLA who can request additional vision checks to be undertaken. Your optometrist will be able to advise you if you have any conditions which need to be reported to the DVLA and can advise if you meet the vision standards for driving with or without spectacles.
  3. Keep on top of cataracts. If cataracts progress to a level that is affecting vision too much, surgery may be needed to remove them. The good news is that cataract surgery is extremely common with a very high success rate allowing most patients to achieve an improved standard of vision after the procedure.
  4. Wear the right glasses. There are now special spectacle lenses and coatings available which can help with glare when driving at night, and prescription sunglasses can be ideal for dealing with sun glare too. Ask your optometrist if this is something you struggle with.
  5. Ask the expert. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your optometrist for advice if you are having any difficulty with driving.
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