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PHOTOGRAPHY STOCKSY/SONG ABOUT SUMMER WINTER 2020 | 19 A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, Mary Mills, an 81-year-old retiree from Hamilton, Ontario, found herself taking a driving test for the first time in decades. The exam was part of a McMaster University program to improve the behind-the-wheel skills of older drivers. Researchers placed cameras inside Mills' car and sent the former journalist on a 15-minute tour of Hamilton. The aim: to see how she performed and give feedback on her mistakes, of which, it turned out, there were a few. Once, Mills forgot to fully scan an intersection before turning. A couple of times, she failed to check her mirrors. In all, researchers counted nine oversights. "Most of the mistakes I could see immediately in the video," says Mills, a CAA Member, who found the session extremely helpful. The McMaster study was part of a wider push by governments, health care professionals and road safety advocates to keep Canadians driving safely for as long as possible. Experts say the efforts are crucial in a country with an aging population and cities largely designed around the automobile. "Driving is a gateway to living in our society," says Brenda Vrkljan, a professor at McMaster's School of Rehabilitation Science, who led the study in which Mills was involved. Vrkljan lists just a few of the benefits for seniors: "To get out into their community, to live life, to participate in all the things that they enjoy." By 2040, there will be more than 10 million seniors in Canada, up from 2 million in 1980, according to Statistics Canada. While people over 65 are involved in more collisions per kilometre than any other group except young male drivers, that doesn't justify the widespread perception that seniors are unsafe behind the wheel, experts say. "Older adults are o–en unfairly labelled as bad drivers," says Gary Naglie, the chief of medicine at Baycrest, a Toronto hospital and research centre focused on aging. "They are less likely to do things like drinking and driving. They are less likely to speed or disobey road signs. And they're more likely to self-limit their driving." As people grow older, they do become more prone to medical conditions that can affect their ability to drive, he says (see "Health Challenges," at right). HEALTH CHALLENGES Senior drivers are more prone to medical conditions that affect their ability to drive safely. Here are the most common issues. DEMENTIA In the early stages of the disease, many people can continue to drive safely. But as the condition progresses, it can lead to cognitive and physical changes that make being behind the wheel dangerous. Doctors recommend patients with dementia undergo an assessment by an occupational therapist to determine if they're fit to drive. GLAUCOMA Often caused by abnormally high pressure in the eye, it can lead to a loss of peripheral vision. While that can't be reversed, medication, combined with regular checkups, can halt or slow the degradation. MACULAR DEGENERATION Common in people over 50, it can reduce central vision. Some types of macular degeneration respond better to treatment than others. Experts recommend regular checks by an eye doctor, who will determine if sufferers can still drive safely. GLARE SENSITIVITY As we age, we can become more sensitive to bright light. To counteract that, experts recommend wearing quality sunglasses on especially bright days. (Just remember to take them off as soon as the sun sets.) At night, to avoid being blinded by oncoming cars, look to the right side of the road as vehicles pass, focusing on the lane markings to stay on track. Once the coast is clear, look ahead of you again. HEARING LOSS Very common in people over 65, it can make it hard to hear horns, bicycle bells and other sounds critical to safe driving. Doctors recommend senior drivers have regular hearing tests and, if necessary, invest in hearing aids. ARTHRITIS The disease can result in a loss of muscle and range of motion, making it difficult to grasp the steering wheel, apply the brakes and perform blind spot checks. Arthritis can also slow reaction times. People suffering from severe pain and those with a very limited range of motion should not drive, says the Canadian Medical Association. But some of those conditions can be overcome with in-car driving aids. An occupational therapist can also help those with severe arthritis modify and improve their driving technique. Older adults are often unfairly labelled as bad drivers. But they are less likely to do things like drinking and driving. They are less likely to speed or disobey road signs. And they're more likely to self-limit their driving."

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