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How Age-Related Night Vision Problems Affect Driving

by Health News

People in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are more active than ever, which means record numbers of seniors are taking to the roadways.  While maintaining an active lifestyle in later years is definitely a good thing, vision changes that come with aging can impair driving, especially at night.  Statistics show that diminished night vision can be a serious hazard when it comes to traffic accidents, but learning how night vision problems affect driving can help.

Night vision problems begin to develop gradually as people age.

Aging and the Development of Night Vision Problems

As people age, pupils begin to shrink, which means they don't dilate as much in fading light or darkness.  This lowers the amount of light that enters the eye, which can have an effect similar to wearing sunglasses at night. 

Aging also affects the cornea and lens within the eye.  Overall vision becomes less clear and light scatters inside the eye, increasing glare.  Contrast sensitivity, or the ability to detect slight differences in brightness, also deteriorates as people get older.

Research published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science showed that some people develop optical imperfections called higher-order aberrations as they age.  Unfortunately, these imperfections reduce visual acuity, particularly at night, and they cannot be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. 

Related:  Antioxidants and Vision Health: Three Factors that Could Affect Your Vision

The Failure of Eye Testing

Often, the decline in vision for aging individuals is so gradual that they don't notice it.  According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, older people may test well at the DMV or at the eye doctor's office, but still struggle with night vision problems.  Dimming light or darkness reduces vision for traffic signs, cars, and pedestrians. 

Additional Visual Problems that Come with Aging

While all seniors experience certain optical changes, some people develop additional conditions that can contribute to night vision problems.  According to the Vision Council, one third of Americans over the age of 40 suffer from age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or cataracts.  

Management and Prevention of Age-Related Vision Problems

When it comes to staying safe while driving, the following tips can help aging individuals:

  • Reduce speed and limit driving to daytime hours.
  • Use extra caution at intersections, particularly when making a left turn.
  • Scan from side-to-side slightly while driving to compensate for reduced peripheral vision.
  • Avoid eyeglasses and sunglasses with wide frames that can restrict peripheral vision.
  • Participate in a driving course for seniors.

While some optical changes are an inevitable part of aging, people can reduce risks for developing serious eye problems by scheduling regular eye exams and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  A nutritious diet and eye vitamins may help reduce risks for certain eye conditions.

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