Eye doctors should better evaluate older drivers

Most eye doctors in Miami and around the U.S. ask older patients if they are experiencing any driving problems. However, new studies indicate that ophthalmologists and optometrists are not doing enough to identify potentially unsafe older drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that car accidents are a primary cause of “injury-related” death for those in the 65 to 74 age category.

One new research study surveyed over 400 eye doctors in Michigan. Researchers asked doctors how important they believe it to be asking their over-65 patients about driving issues. The doctors were also asked how they determine the adequacy of the patient’s eyesight and if they commonly referred patients to their primary care physicians for testing other abilities.

The good news: Most respondents, 87 percent, indicated they did indeed ask older patients about driving problems. The troubling news: Eye specialists seldom refer their older patients to primary care physicians, who could evaluate patient thought processes and physical abilities as they relate to safe driving.

Additionally, respondents indicated that they seldom asked their patients about specific, common driving tasks, such as making turns, the responses to which may indicate the condition of their driving ability. While declining eyesight is a common affliction of the elderly and could certainly affect their driving safety, other issues, outside the expertise of eye specialists, could also fuel unsafe driving actions.

Even with acceptable eyesight, seniors may suffer from declining mental or physical abilities, such as reaction time, that generate unsafe driving conditions. For example, a simple case of painful arthritis could easily hamper older drivers from safely negotiating turns or highway merges.

With an estimated 40 million over-65 drivers by 2020, there is a greater responsibility for eye doctors to increase their diligence to evaluate and refer for further evaluation their older patients. The study indicates that better communication between eye specialists and primary care physicians is a necessity. Survey results show that only 28 to 36 percent of eye doctors surveyed “often” or “sometimes” referred older patients to primary care physicians.

Do you agree with the experts who state that eye specialists must do more to evaluate the safety–or lack thereof–of their older patients who still drive? Would referring seniors to their primary care physicians to analyze their driving ability result in safer roadways?

Source: Health Day, “Eye Docs Must Do More to Spot Unsafe Older Drivers: Study,” Carina Storrs, Oct. 11, 2012