Tips for older drivers with vision problems

Tips for older drivers with vision problems


The ability to drive a car and get around independently is essential for millions of adults across the country. While driving safely is a key concern of anyone traveling in a car, changes in the aging eye make it an especially “driving” matter for older people. Everyone experiences some vision changes due to normal aging; these include difficulty focusing on near tasks like reading, difficulty distinguishing colors and contrast, and the need for more light. What’s more, as Americans are living longer, increasing numbers of people are affected by more severe vision problems due to conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma. Kent Higgins, Ph.D., vice president for Vision Science, Lighthouse International, advises all older persons to have regular eye check-ups to maintain eye health and to ensure that their ability to drive safely is not compromised by undetected vision loss.

The following insights and tips for older drivers with vision problems are based on an established body of research and on original research conducted by the Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute of Lighthouse International:

l If you are 60 years of age or over, know that you are driving with only about one-third of the light you had when you were 20 years old. This is due to changes occurring within the eye, of which we are generally unaware.

l Also keep in mind that, as an older driver, you cannot process and respond to visual information as quickly and efficiently as you could when you were younger.

l Be aware that driving under the influence of some medications can dramatically diminish an older person’s ability to react to unexpected road hazards. Ask your doctor about the medications that you are taking.

l Nighttime driving, which typically involves exposure to bright, fleeting glare, presents a particular challenge to older drivers. With this in mind, take extra caution regarding your decision to get behind a wheel at night.

l To minimize glare exposure when driving at night, do not look directly at the headlights of oncoming vehicles. Instead, direct your gaze down the road and toward the right side of the lane in which you are driving.

l Older drivers require more time to adjust to sudden changes in light level such as when one enters a darkened tunnel from the bright afternoon sunlight. You can partially solve this problem with a pair of “flip-up/down sunglasses.” View through the sunglasses for a few minutes while approaching a tunnel. Then flip them up and out of the way on entering the entrance of the tunnel. Another approach to achieve the same result would be to use “wrap-around” sunglasses that fit over the top of your prescription eyeglasses, but can be easily removed upon entering the tunnel.

l Cataracts can seriously interfere with driving performance, even though they may produce only a small decline in one’s ability to read a chart in the doctor’s office. If you are developing cataracts, check with your eye doctor about whether or not it’s time to have the cataracts removed.

l If you are an older driver with vision problems, plan your travel to minimize the impact of any visual limitations. When possible, drive in familiar locations and avoid driving at night, in bad weather, and during the busy rush hours.

l Consider speaking to an eye care specialist, friends, or family members about any concerns you may have related to driving.

If you or anyone you know has a vision impairment or would like information about driving issues among older people with vision problems, in addition to information on vision loss and how to locate vision rehabilitation services in your area and other professional referrals in your area, call Lighthouse International’s toll-free number at 1-800-829-0500 or visit the website at:

Vision rehabilitation professionals, including low vision doctors, social workers, rehabilitation teachers, and orientation and mobility instructors, provide individualized instruction and guidance to achieve your personal goals. They work with people who are blind or partially sighted, as well as with family and friends, to improve the overall quality of life.

Lighthouse International is a leading resource worldwide on vision impairment and vision rehabilitation. Through its pioneering work in vision rehabilitation services, education, research, prevention and advocacy, Lighthouse International enables people of all ages who are blind or partially sighted to lead independent and productive lives. Founded in 1905 and headquartered in New York, Lighthouse International is a not- for-profit organization, and depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations and corporations.

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