Don’t Get Eclipsed!!

Solar eclipses happen every year. There are at least two, and sometimes as many as five, that carve their way somewhere around the Earth.

But whether or not you get to see them depends on where you live. The sun might slide behind the moon somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, for example, leaving few opportunities for viewers to take in the spectacle. Or it might occur on the other side of the earth while your home is shrouded in night, leaving no better option than staring up at the night sky.

Then there are the different degrees of eclipse. A partial solar eclipse, when the moon blocks part of the sun but not all of it, is more common than a total solar eclipse, when the entirety of the sun is obscured and day briefly turns to night.

So despite the relative frequency of eclipses, what is happening today is rare. In the United States the last total eclipse was 38 years ago, in March of 1979. And if you miss today’s event, the next opportunity to see one isn’t until 2024.

So get excited, and make sure you go see it. But whatever do, don’t look at it!

That’s right, don’t look at it. These beautiful, stunning rare events are extremely dangerous, at least for your eyes. It is never safe to look directly at the sun, and an eclipse is no different. Even wearing sunglasses is not enough to keep your eyes safe for watching. If you are going to take in this celestial spectacle, you need to be prepared.

There are a handful of easy safe ways recommended by NASA to view the sun today. The easiest is through a pair of special eclipse viewing glasses. They look like the old 3D glasses, but instead of one red lens and one blue they have special dark lenses rated to the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. Anything less is not enough.

Another option is a welding mask, but be sure the filter’s shade number is adequate. NASA suggests a rating of 14. Few welding masks are rated this dark. If yours is not, don’t use it.

Another option that might require a bit of creativity but is a fun way to look at the sun is the projection method, where a pinhole allows the projection of the sun onto a surface. Instead of looking directly at the sun you watch the projection, which is safe on the eyes. There are a number of options for how to project the sun, from two sheets of paper held parallel to building a camera obscura from a cardboard box to transforming a pair of binoculars into a focusable projector. These keep your eyes looking away from the sun and its direct rays, which in turn keeps them safe.

According to the Solar Center at Stanford University, those in the exact path of the total eclipse can look up when the sun is fully covered by the moon, at the point when the sky goes dark, but for most of us viewing the eclipse requires protection. And even in the direct path there is ample opportunity to damage your eyes. Be safe, and if in doubt look away. The next U.S. eclipse is seven years from now — chances are you’ll want to use your eyes a lot between now and then.

Summer, Sunglasses and Safeguarding Your Sight

Summer is a time to be outside. Sun and hot weather push us out the door, and we find ourselves at the beach, the lake, hiking in the mountains or grilling in the backyard. All that time in the open air is glorious, but it can also be hard on our eyes. Sunlight, wonderful to bask in, when left to shine on unprotected eyes can take a toll.

The sun not only shines with sunlight, it also emits ultraviolet radiation. Roughly 10 percent of the energy from the sun is transmitted as UV rays. We can’t see these rays with our eyes, but they can still do damage to our eyes.

UV rays come in different forms. Some, like UVC rays, get absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. But others, like UVB radiation, are only partially blocked, and UVA rays are not blocked at all. UVB can burn skin and eyes, and UVA can cause serious eye damage. These are the rays from which we need to protect our eyes. Extended exposure has been linked to cataracts, macular degeneration, and conditions like pingueculae (a yellowish, slightly raised thickening of the conjunctiva on the white part of the eye), pterygia (a pinkish, triangular tissue growth on the cornea) and photokeratitis (a painful eye condition caused by exposure of insufficiently protected eyes to the ultraviolet rays) that can cause temporary vision loss.

As destructive as this radiation can be, however, all it takes to beat the sun and still embrace summer is a good pair of sunglasses. But not all sunglasses are created equal. Many cheap varieties lack UVA and UVB protection, which means that while they might shade your eyes they don’t protect them. To keep your eyes healthy, look for sunglasses rated to provide 100% UV protection, or glasses labeled with UV 400 protection, which means they block all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers. That covers both UVA and UVB radiation. Expensive sunglasses offer this kind of protection, but you don’t have to break the bank for eye health — plenty of gas station varieties offer 100% UV protection, too.

Glasses alone won’t protect your eyes, however. To do any good, you have to wear them. In the glovebox, in a pants pocket or pushed up on your forehead, they do nothing. The Vision Council reports only one in five Americans wears their sunglasses all the time. If you’re focused on eye health, you’ll be one of those who do.

And parents: These rules don’t just apply to adults. Children spend more time outside than adults. According to the Vision Council, children receive an annual dose of UV roughly three times higher than adults. But only 7.4 percent of American adults report their children wear sunglasses regularly, and 13.4 percent use nothing to protect their children’s eyes from the UV rays.

Everyone should wear sunglasses, regardless of age, regularly. The Vision Council suggests donning a pair anytime you’re outdoors during daylight hours. Sunglasses are not just for style. Proper shades keep you looking good, and seeing well.

National Children’s Vision and Learning Month

It’s August! The eighth month, named after a Roman emperor, is a time for sand and sun, bikes, beach vacations and road trips. August is summer full swing: hot days, warm nights, swimsuits and flip flops, thunderstorms and fireflies, lemonade and barbecues.

But the warmest month is also a time to focus on eye health. August is National Children’s Vision and Learning Month, dedicated to increasing awareness of the prevalence of undiagnosed or misdiagnosed vision problems among children and the importance of comprehensive vision exams for kids’ education.

September follows August, bringing thoughts of school and of the healthy vision children need to see the whiteboard and read their textbooks and computer screens.

But according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, as many as 1 in 10 children suffer from vision problems, and in-school eye screenings often fail to identify them. As many as half of children with vision problems remain undiagnosed.

Unaware of their vision problems, these children struggle to keep up with their peers in class. Undiagnosed issues can lead to diagnoses of ADD, ADHD or other attention disorders, when in fact these problems are better fixed by prescription lenses or other vision treatment.

The College of Optometrists in Vision Development launched National Vision and Learning Month and plopped it right in the heart of beach season to raise awareness of this issue. August is a time for children to get comprehensive vision exams — far more important than new pencils or notebooks, healthy eyes are at the very foundation of learning. National Vision and Learning Month encourages parents, grandparents, families and teachers to make sure all the children in their lives have appointments for adequate eye care. Vision exams are as important as back-to-school shopping, if not more. Undiagnosed vision problems shouldn’t leave children struggling unnecessarily. Early detection aids treatment, and these are not difficulties children will “grow out of.”

And as always, if someone needs to get to an eye care appointment, Rides in Sight is here to help you find a ride. Our service is available to families of children with eye appointments as much as anyone. If you need a ride, we’re here, no matter the season.

Carrots, the Night, and World War Two

“What’s up, Doc?”

Bugs Bunny was onto something.

Carrots are a deceptively simple-seeming food. A crunchy orange root vegetable topped by a tuft of greens, they are a favorite of eye care professionals. Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, a pigment our bodies turn into vitamin A and a crucial ingredient for healthy vision. Vitamin A is an essential component of rhodopsin, a protein that absorbs light in our retinal receptors, and it also supports the normal functioning of the conjunctival membranes and cornea. “If a person is deprived of vitamin A for too long, the outer segments of the eye’s photoreceptors begin to deteriorate, and the normal chemical processes involved in vision no longer occur,” according to DukeHealth. “Restoring your vitamin A intake will help restore your vision as well.” One serving of carrots contains roughly 200 percent of the daily recommended allowance of beta-carotene, so they are a good source of vitamin A. They are definitely good for the eyes.

But just how powerful is the little orange root? Carrots have shouldered claims that they can help people see in the dark. We know they are good for your eyes, but can they really give you night vision?

Not quite. Carrots  acquired their visionary reputation through wartime propaganda. The old wives tale that carrots help people see in the dark was born in World War Two. It is a falsehood created and broadcast by the British Government.

Why would the British make up such stories about carrots? Two reasons: radar and rations.

During World War Two German submarines effectively cut Britain off from the rest of the world. A small country with a large population, much of the British Isle’s food was imported, and with supply lines severed the nation needed to grow more of what they consumed at home. What grows well on English soil? Potatoes and carrots.

That meant potatoes and carrots became some of the few foods in ample supply. Farmers were encouraged to plant vast tracts of carrots. Meat, sugar and flour went to support soldiers fighting in Europe, but carrots were everywhere in local markets. These were not standard items, however, so the British government had to get people excited about their new staples. They began a marketing campaign with the help of a cartoon carrot — “Dr. Carrot” — who had the face of an old man, a top hat, a pair of spectacles (eye health indeed!) and a briefcase emblazoned “Vit A.” He became the mascot of patriotic eaters everywhere.

But their marketing efforts didn’t end there. The British government put out recipes and recommendations for all sorts of carrot-based meals. They turned to a range of tactics to convince citizens to eat more carrots, including the campaign that led to the old see-in-the-dark myth.

It was a message aimed simultaneously at domestic consumers and at enemies abroad. Royal Air Force pilots had a new technological edge over their German counterparts: onboard radar, plane-mounted radar units that allowed RAF crews to shoot German planes out of the sky even in utter darkness. Radar units that small, however, were secret new technology. So how did the British government explain their pilots’ amazing feats of night shooting? Carrots!

“Night sight can mean life or death” depicting a helmeted soldier holding a rifle read. “Eat carrots and leafy green or yellow vegetables… rich in vitamin A, essential for night sight.”

“Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout,” another poster from the online World Carrot Museum said, featuring a woman and a girl, both in coats, surrounded by inky darkness.

The RAF’s success, the campaign suggested, was due to carrot consumption. The campaign was intended not only to get more Brits to eat their vegetables — carrots in particular — but to also throw Germans off the scent of the new smaller radar units. The result was a spike in carrot consumption, as well as the birth of a new vegetable myth. As far as the propaganda effort there is little evidence the Germans bought the carrot ruse, but domestically at least the message took root.

So while carrots carry all sorts of health benefits — alpha-carotene and lutein, which promote a healthy heart, and Falcarinol, a natural pesticide that protects carrots against fungal disease and humans against cancer, beta-carotene that helps the liver flush toxins, a crunch helps scrub teeth and gums of plaque and food particles, even a reduced risk of stroke — any claims of night vision are spurious. Carrots may be a “super-food,” but not super enough to see in the dark.

They will, however, turn your skin orange if you eat too many. That one is no myth.

Opto-, Opti-, Ophtha-

When you need to see the eye doctor, who are you seeing? It depends. There are different types of eye-care professionals — optometrists, opticians, ophthalmologists, retinologists. They may sound similar, but each has a different specialty, focus, level of education and job. Each is dedicated to your vision, but they all mean something different for your eyes.

Optician: An optician makes glasses. Opticians are not doctors. They turn an eye doctor’s prescription into the glasses or contact lenses you wear. They are “professional in the field of finishing and fitting eyeglass lenses, frames, and contact lenses,” according to the Opticians Association of America. Community colleges and technical schools offer associate degrees in opticianry, which require two years to complete, and certificates, which take one year. The Commission on Opticianry Accreditation recognizes 19 degree and certificate programs in 11 states. Opticians can also learn their skills through on-the-job training programs, which allow students to measure customers’ eyes and adjust frames under the supervision of an experienced optician. Twenty-three states require opticians to be licensed.

Optometrist: An optometrist is an eye doctor, but not a medical doctor (MD). Optometrists are primary health care professionals for the eye, akin to the family doctor for all things visual. Optometrists can prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses and contact lenses, and perform certain surgical procedures, according to the American Optometric Association. They “examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.” Certain procedures and treatments, however, are outside the scope of optometry and require a higher level of training.

Optometrists complete a four year post-graduate professional program at a college of optometry after earning an undergraduate degree. This professional program earns them a Doctor of Optometry degree. Some complete a residency. All are state licensed health professionals, counseling patients on surgical and non-surgical options regarding their visual needs.

Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the eye. “An ophthalmologist is a physician (doctor of medicine, MD, or doctor of osteopathy, DO) who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system and in the prevention of eye disease and injury,” according to Harvard’s Digital Journal of Ophthalmology. To become an ophthalmologist requires an undergraduate degree, followed by four or more years of medical school, one year of internship and then three or more years of specialized training and experience in eye care. “An ophthalmologist is a specialist who is qualified by lengthy medical education, training and experience to diagnose, treat and manage all eye and visual systems and is licensed by a state regulatory board to practice medicine and surgery,” according to the journal, and ophthalmologists can deliver all levels of eye care, including specialized treatments like eye surgery.

Retinologist: A retinologist is an ophthalmologist who specializes in the retina. Also known as a retina specialist, these medical doctors specialize in ophthalmology, but they sub-specialize in diseases and surgery of the vitreous body of the eye — the liquid-filled portion — and the retina, according to the American Society of Retina Specialists. This subspecialty is sometimes known as vitreoretinal medicine. In addition to earning the educational requirements of ophthalmologists, retina specialists spend an additional one to two years of fellowship training. They treat conditions ranging from age-related macular degeneration to retinal detachment as well as eye cancers. They may also be called in for cases involving severe eye trauma. Some of the surgeries retina specialists perform include:

Retinal detachment surgery

Diabetic vitrectomy

Macular pucker vitrectomy

Macular hole vitrectomy

Macular translocation

Repair of ruptured globe


Over the course of a lifetime, proper eye-care may require a stop with several of these various eye-care professionals. Today it might be an optometrist, tomorrow it might be an ophthalmologist. But no matter what level of care you need, Rides In Sight makes no distinction — whether you are looking for a lift to the optician or the retina specialist, we’re here to support your healthy eyes.

Give us a call today: 1 (855) 607-4337

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Our focus is vision.

Here at Rides In Sight, we are dedicated to supporting eye health and helping people access eye care. A huge part of that goal is making sure everyone, regardless of the current condition of their eyesight, can reach their eye appointments. Which is why we help seniors find the best local transportation options to get them to their eye appointments.

But eye health doesn’t just begin at the optometrist’s office. It also begins at home. One of the most common causes of vision loss is macular degeneration, a condition where the macula, the most sensitive part of the retina containing millions of light-sensing cells, deteriorates, resulting in a blurry or dark area at the center of the field of vision. The condition often develops as people age, growing acute as they reach their retirement years, hence its common name: Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD.

AMD is a leading cause of blindness in older Americans. And while medical treatments are available for intermediate and late-stage AMD, prevention is an important part of maintaining macular health. Things like smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol can contribute to AMD, while regular exercise and eating a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish can help prevent onset and slow its progression. The Alliance for Aging Research has a created a great video about AMD explaining the condition, discussing the risk factors and laying out options for treatment:

We at Rides In Sight are dedicated to your safe mobility. That means finding good alternative transportation to supplement your driving, helping ensure every American has proper access to eye health and keeping you informed about what you can do on your own to keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear.

More information about AMD is available here and here.

Transportation safety: How seniors can maintain independence outside the home

It can be hard to admit your vision isn’t what it used to be, especially when it comes to driving. Maybe you’ve noticed some difficulties reading traffic signals, or you’ve found it challenging to drive at night.

If you’re a family member noticing these warning signs in a loved one, pointing out these challenges may seem like a daunting and delicate undertaking. But when it comes to being on the road, safety is one thing you can’t ignore.

Encouraging your loved one to prioritize safety can be hard, especially when it feels like their independence is at stake. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest discussion to determine the best options for maintaining independence outside the home.

Step 1: Address driver safety

Vision is the most important sense for driving safety. Annual vision screening is important for everyone, but it is especially critical for older people, since the sensory data used for driving is predominantly visual.

For seniors still able to drive, a defensive driving class can be beneficial. These classes allow students to brush up on skills while gaining confidence and introduce them to alternative transportation options for the times and locations of their preference. What’s more, many insurance companies provide discounts to seniors who complete these courses.

Giving up driving doesn’t have to mean choosing between all or nothing. For example, start limiting driving to daylight only, non-rush-hour periods. Then look into supplementary transportation options that eliminate the need to drive while still allowing you to get where you need to go.

Step 2: Research transportation options

It’s important to educate yourself or your loved one about locally available transportation options for seniors. When you know there are reliable, cost-effective transportation options available, it can help maintain a high level of independence for a trip to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment.

Rides in Sight is a nationwide, online database of senior transportation options built by ITNAmerica, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing sustainable transportation options for seniors. Visit www.ridesinsight.org and enter basic information like your state or zip code, and you can find the ride option that’s best for your situation. If you prefer to access information by phone, call 1-855-60-RIDES (1-855-607-4337).

Rides in Sight makes it easy to find customized transportation, no matter what a person’s needs. For example, you can find wheelchair accessible transportation options or door-to-door driver assistance if that’s what you need.

Step 3: Implement a trial period

Giving up the keys is easier if you do it over a period of time. Pick a date and schedule your first ride with a transportation service during a time you normally drive. Any change takes time to adapt to, so try it out for a while before reassessing and making any necessary adjustments. After this trial period, you should feel more comfortable with someone else driving you, and you get to be in control of your mobility.

For older Americans, it’s important to be able to maintain independence when they limit or stop driving. When they are encouraged to create their own driving transition plan, more emphasis can be placed on finding new passions and activities to engage with their communities. The result is a positive impact on people of all ages.

To have that impact, reliable, secure transportation is essential. Having the necessary conversations and researching appropriate transportation options helps keep everyone happy, healthy and safe.

ChORUS: A source of information on highway safety for aging drivers, and more

The Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety (ChORUS) is a collaborative project of the Roadway Safety Foundation and two leading information technology developers, Syneren Technologies and Bonzzu. Support is provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

ChORUS serves as a centralized, user-friendly source of information on highway safety for aging drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Built as a comprehensive resource, it covers all three major components of highway safety: safe roadways, safe road users, and safe vehicles.

Subject Matter Expert, Kim Snook

Kim Snook was involved as a State representative on the first ChORUS committee when the site was just getting underway. She is now the subject matter expert for all of the site’s content and works in a contracted position with Syneren Technologies.

With her deep knowledge of all types of drivers licensing and senior driver issues, it made sense to involve Kim in the early stages of the website’s development. Her home state of Iowa is one of the most active states when it comes to sharing road safety information other organizations, and it has a high older driver population. After 36 years of service, Kim recently retired from the Iowa Department of Transportation where she served as Director of Driver Services for nine years. Before that she was a manager and did a lot work with young and old drivers, as well as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) where she was Chair of the Medical Guidelines Review Committee.

Road Safety Resources

“When I was the Director for Iowa’s DOT, I always found it difficult to find information on highway safety for older drivers, so I became very interested in and excited about the ChORUS website,” says Kim. “Now, when I give presentations to other states about the website and how they can use it as a resource, I encourage them to invite law enforcement representatives, public health physicians and caregivers, engineers and city planners, as well as State DMV’s and traffic and safety officials.”

The website is also a comprehensive resource of free training materials for front line DMV’s or their law enforcement agencies. Even if you need to find simple information on knowing what to ask a driver who seems lost and confused out on the highway, you can find it on ChORUS.

“… if you plan to take the keys away from somebody, whether you’re a State DMV official, doctor, caregiver, or family member, you should know your options to be able to present a backup plan.”

ChORUS has resources on a variety of topics that everyone dealing with senior drivers should be aware of. Doctors, for example, have somewhere to go to find out if their state offers a license restricted to driving within a one mile radius from a person’s home. The license of an older person doesn’t need to be completely revoked if their doctor feels they are capable of driving short distances, and knowing what licenses are available could allow an older person to drive themselves to their church, grocery store, or post office.

Planning Ahead

Kim says it’s her mission to keep people driving as long as they’re safely able to do so, no matter what age. She believes that we all need to do a better job and be more closely involved with older drivers, and ChORUS is a great resource that shares the most current highway safety information with everyone. “The goal is to keep people driving as long as they are safe,” says Kim. “But if you plan to take the keys away from somebody, whether you’re a State DMV official, doctor, caregiver, or family member, you should know your options to be able to present a backup plan.”

Survivor of 2003 Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Crash shares her thoughts on senior driver safety issues

Melissa Cronin

In July of 2003 Melissa Cronin of South Burlington, Vermont decided to visit her sister in Santa Monica, California. On the day of her trip, she had a smooth flight and checked into her hotel without a hitch. She had plans to meet her sister later that afternoon, so to pass the time she took a walk to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.

Melissa had been in Santa Monica for less than an hour before her life changed forever. As she reached for a peach at the busy outdoor market, 86-year-old driver George Russell Weller struck her with his car causing her life-threatening injuries.

Weller had accelerated through several streets that had been closed to traffic and sped two-and-a-half blocks through the market before coming to a stop. He killed ten people and injured 63 others that day, including Melissa. Investigators reported that Weller said he had accidentally placed his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake. At the time of the accident, he held a valid driver’s license issued by the State of California.

After surgeries and many months of therapy, Melissa physically has recovered, but she deals with mental and emotional issues. Before the accident, she worked as a neonatal intensive care nurse. But after being diagnosed with a brain injury, chronic back pain, and later PTSD, it became too difficult for her to keep up with the demanding pace of nursing.

A difficult decision

A few years ago, Melissa’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she knew it was time for him to stop driving. She notes, “He was clearly unsafe to drive, and I began to notice a lot of dents and scratches on his car.”

Melissa was her father’s health care proxy, so she gathered his medical records and sent them to the Registry of Motor Vehicles where he lived to begin the action of taking away his license. She says she ran into a lot of obstacles, and the process, she felt, was more complicated than it needed to be. After her father’s license was finally revoked, she experienced a lot of guilt. She knew it was the right thing to do, but she also struggled with the decision because she knew that his independence was gone.

“At first, I didn’t consider the full social impact and what it would do to his independence or how it would affect him. Now, I see that other side of it, and there’s no clear answer.”

Melissa says that after her accident, every time she saw an older driver who didn’t seem safe on the road, she’d get angry. But after dealing with her dad, she knew firsthand what a difficult decision it is to take someone’s keys away. She says, “At first, I didn’t consider the full social impact and what it would do to his independence or how it would affect him. Now, I see that other side of it, and there’s no clear answer.”

Advocacy and resources

Melissa says you have to be an advocate when it comes to senior driving matters. Alternative transportation is a priority when someone has to hang up their keys. Fortunately, her father had caregivers who could help drive him, but lots of seniors don’t have transportation lined up for when they stop driving.

“. . . you must have a plan in place for how they are going to get groceries, visit their doctor, or participate in any activity that requires leaving home.”

Melissa believes that if someone is capable of driving, of course, they should drive, but she also knows from her time as a nurse that there are physical issues that impact our ability to drive as we get older. “As we age, our reflexes change, we’re slower, and we’re more susceptible to distracted driving.” She adds, “All reasons to be concerned when it comes to being safe on the road.”

She feels we are better informed now compared to ten or twelve years, ago but there’s still much work to do around age and driving issues. “More and more people are writing about older driver safety. There are resources like AARP, National Institute on Aging, AAA, Centers for Disease Control, and national newspapers with columns dedicated to older drivers and the elderly population, and that’s a good thing,” says Melissa.

Perspectives and insights

When Melissa took the car keys away from her father, it was not an easy decision. But going through the process helped her feel a little more compassion towards the man who struck her with his car, and provided her with insight she needed to see the whole picture. “I think it’s important to act if you think a family member or neighbor shouldn’t be driving.” She adds, “I also know it’s an emotional issue that has to be handled with sensitivity, and you must have a plan in place for how they are going to get groceries, visit their doctor, or participate in any activity that requires leaving home.”

———

Melissa Cronin now works as a contributing writer for her local newspaper and is writing a memoir related to the 2003 Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Crash.

Dr. Gwen Bergen of the CDC on how older adults can remain mobile and be safer drivers

Dr. Gwen Bergen’s personal experiences are what led to her interest in public health. She grew up whitewater kayaking and canoeing and had some friends who were hurt and another who drowned as a result of these activities. What she realized, consequently, is that many fatal and nonfatal injuries are preventable.

She earned her master’s degree in public health at Emory University and went on to obtain a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University where she focused on behavioral science with a concentration in injury. Later, she completed a service fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in Hyattsville, Maryland. While she was with NCHS, she did injury research studies and used general health data sets to collect injury data and created and published, Injury in the United States: 2007 Chartbook.

Dr. Bergen now serves as a Behavioral Scientist on the Home and Recreation Team in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Before serving in her current position, she was on the Transportation Safety Team for six years. She works to prevent older adult falls, to understand older adult mobility issues, and investigates better sources of surveillance and economic data for unintentional injury.

Retirement Planning and Mobility Exercises

Through her research, Dr. Bergen has discovered some interesting statistics on older adult drivers and she notes that there are no clear tests that tell us when a person needs to stop driving. But she believes as a nation we are starting to move in the direction of doing the research to determine if there are some clear indicators. “It’s not always because older adults are unsafe drivers; it’s because they become frailer as they age, making them more susceptible to injury.” She adds, “The data that surprised me the most from my research since I’ve been in this field is how few options there are for older adults when they stop driving.”

“The data that surprised me the most from my research since I’ve been in this field is how few options there are for older adults when they stop driving.”

So what can we do to ensure that we can remain mobile and safer as older adults? Thankfully, the CDC has a plan in development to address these issues, and Dr. Bergen says they are taking a holistic approach.

“We’re developing a mobility planning tool, aimed at adults who are 60-74 years old to use at the same time they begin planning their retirement.” She adds, “Retirement planning may include where they’re going to live, how they’re going to finance it, and it’s a perfect time to start thinking about how their mobility might change as they age. It’s something we all need to be better prepared for.”

Dr. Bergen also suggests that older adults do these three things on a regular basis to be the best drivers they can be.

  • Daily Exercise: It’s a fact that we become frailer as we age. Falls are the number one cause of injury deaths in older adults, and combined with motor vehicle crashes— both of which are related to mobility — they are the leading causes of injury. Regular exercise can increase strength and can potentially prevent falls to keep older adults driving longer.
  • Review Medications: As people age, they can develop health conditions that require taking a lot of medications, and sometimes these drugs may be too strong for older adults, or the medications may have interactions. Older adults should ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medications, including prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, and even herbal and natural remedies. It’s always a good idea to make sure that there aren’t any interactions and to see if the dosages may need adjusting to reduce side effects.
  • Yearly Eye Exams: A yearly vision exam is important for older drivers. If cataracts are detected, get them corrected. Make sure glasses and corrective lenses are the right prescription and wear them while driving. If you are restricted to day driving, abide by your doctor’s orders.

Know Your Transportation Options

For older adults who need rides temporarily, or for those who have already made the decision to stop driving, there are transportation options out there. For example, Rides in Sight, a program of ITNAmerica is listed on the CDC website as a resource for those seeking transportation for a variety of reasons.

Dr. Bergen says that after her mother had surgery, which kept her from driving for three months, she went to Rides in Sight to see what was available on the days she wasn’t able to drive her around. “Rides in Sight allows people to find local transportation options quickly.” She adds, “Our choice to list it as a resource on the CDC website came from talking to ITNAmerica, and learning how they continuously update and evaluate the data to make sure it’s the best transportation information they can give.”

“Our choice to list it [Rides in Sight] as a resource on the CDC website came from talking to ITNAmerica, and learning how they continuously update and evaluate the data to make sure it’s the best transportation information they can give.”

Another takeaway from Dr. Bergen’s research is that when older adults stop driving it can lead to social isolation and depression, and maybe even a shortened lifespan. She notes, “I know for adult children the decision to take the car away from their parent is a tough one to make, especially knowing what it does to their independence.” However, these conversations can be easier if you familiarize yourself with the senior transportation options available in your area.

We all need to take the time to educate ourselves about mobility health and safety issues, and with proper planning and the right tools, the transition from driving can be less stressful for older adults and their loved ones.

For more information on Motor Vehicle Safety, please visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online.