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Elderly who want to keep driving

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As we age our independence becomes one of the most important aspects of life. Losing the ability to drive can make us feel "trapped" and decrease our quality of life.  We don't want to be a burden on family members and often have a difficult time knowing or telling someone when we no longer feel safe driving.

So, how can we improve or maintain our ability to continuing driving safely?

First, the ability to turn your head and neck is very important for driving and this is something that becomes limited as we age. Gentle range of motion exercises for the neck will help maintain looking over your shoulder. It is as simple as slowly turning your head side to side, making sure your chin is slightly tucked (the ear should be in line with the shoulder). Each time this rotation is performed, you will notice you have more mobility and a greater ability to look over your shoulder.

Being able to turn the head as much as possible is needed when we are reversing our car or even looking around a corner to make sure the coast is clear to go. Think about a person that is unable to look over his/her shoulder when backing out of the drive way. The mirrors do not show everything and it is almost like backing up with your eyes closed!

The inability to move our arms and shoulders can effect driving in the same way. I have some patients that can barely lift their arms up to get onto the steering wheel because of pain or previous injuries, yet continue to drive. I worry that if a quick reaction is needed while on the road this patient would have a hard time turning the steering wheel because of his shoulder limitations.

Being able to sit and stand from the driver's seat can be another obstacle.  Often times these limitations go unnoticed and driving becomes more and more unsafe. The best way to see if this is happening to a family member or friend is to drive with them. Notice if they have trouble turning their head or turning the steering wheel, or difficulty getting in/out of the car. Let this person know what you notice. Tell them that it isn't the end of driving for them, but that something can be done to make driving easier and safer.

Exercises and stretches to improve shoulder and neck mobility are simple and can be given to you by your physical therapist. Gentle squats up and down from a chair with minimal use of your hands is another great exercise. Keep driving a part of your life! Stay independent and stay safe!

Contributed by Krista Magnoli, PTA @

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