An important aspect of independent living for anyone, regardless of age, is mobility. In the next 20 years, as baby boomers age, 20% of the American population will belong to the elderly demographic, according to U.S. Census data.
On the Senior Housing News blog, contributor Alyssa Gerace writes,
A recent Transportation for America study showed a huge ‘senior mobility crisis’ threatening the Baby Boomer generation, as transportation options for many senior citizens are limited to driving. With an estimated 56% of the 65 and older crowd living in suburban areas where driving is the main method of transportation, it’s important to cater to this population by providing vehicle features that will help them to remain mobile longer, and therefore maintain their independence.
As the threat of this “senior mobility crisis” looms, issues related to driving are being addressed by both the medical and automobile industries, as well as organizations and private companies specifically related to seniors. At Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for example, doctors and therapists are using a driving simulator that looks and feels like the inside of a car. The “driver” sits buckled into a chair with a rear-view mirror, a side mirror, and a screen in front that displays a simulated road. As the patient reacts to various driving scenarios, a therapist and a computer record the results.
“This assessment really looks at those basic things that everyone needs to be able to drive from the thinking processes and memory,” says occupational therapist Barb Haag. “We look at different aspects of vision.”
The technology eliminates the guesswork of whether or not a patient is fit to drive and provides more specific data. The program affiliated with the simulator can also help the patient plan for transition back to driving or to find resources for alternatives to driving. It is used for both patients with health issues such as brain injuries and for those who are aging.
The GrandDriver program of the Virginia Department for the Aging (VDA) helps improve driving skills and provides other tools to help seniors compensate for changes caused by age. The VDA sponsors CarFit events, where trained experts conduct inspections of seniors’ vehicles. The experts will then make adjustments to the mirrors, the steering wheel, the head rests, and the seats to improve safety and comfort. The events also offer comprehensive driving evaluations and offer suggestions for changes that would aid the driver, such as items that aid vision in bright sunlight or at night, and rear-view cameras and screens.
Some car companies are implementing overall changes in anticipation of the growing population of seniors. Ford Motor Company’s “senior-friendly” adjustments include specially contoured seats and more user-friendly designs for getting in and out of vehicles. Some of the changes are directly related to chronic health conditions such as arthritis, like a fuel filter that makes it easier to insert the nozzle of a gas pump.
The company’s in-car connectivity system SYNC will be connected to Web-based mobile health services and can also connect to some of a driver’s own medical devices that communicate through Bluetooth technology. Beginning next year, Ford will also begin implementing font sizes 40% larger than is currently used on vehicle controls.
Although drivers may have been completely sidelined in the past due to health conditions or advancing age, the growing resources to maintain mobility independence are promising.
Source: “Technology helps doctors decide if patients can get behind the wheel, WQOW, 0826/11
Source: “Helping a loved one stay on the road longer — and safer,” WSLS, 08/07/11
Source: “Auto Technology Aids Senior Independence,” Senior Housing News, 08/14/11
Image by Emilio Labrador, used under its Creative Commons license.