Elderly can retool their driving skills Class compensates for slower reflexes

May 19, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Last year, Jerre Musser, a retired math teacher fro Taneytown, took a senior citizens driving course called 55 Alive.

Mrs. Musser said taking the class improved her driving.

Now, she said, "I am able to predict what's coming up and act, rather than react."

So now Mrs. Musser, 66, teaches the course, which is sponsored several times a year by the American Association of Retired Persons.

About 20 seniors attended the two-day course taught by Mrs. Musser Thursday and Friday at the public library in Westminster.

The class outlines strategies that seniors can use to compensate for the physical changes brought on by aging that can make driving more difficult.

Mrs. Musser said she realized her reflexes had slowed when her grandchildren and son-in-law consistently beat her at a video game called Tetris, which requires speed and hand-eye coordination.

"That was when I knew that I had slowed down drastically and should take this [class]," she said.

She said 55 Alive is nonthreatening, with no tests, no grading and no embarrassment.

"It's not to be a lecture," she said. "It's to be a discussion," she said.

"Everybody thought it was good," said Lucille Root, 69, of Westminster, after she attended the class.

"I didn't go there expecting to learn a whole lot," she said, "but I did pick up some tips," such as how to keep a safe distance between her car and the vehicle ahead.

Although the Maryland driving manual says drivers should keep a two-second following distance, the 55 Alive workbook suggests that older drivers keep a three-second following distance.

That is one of the strategies suggested to combat physical effects of aging, such as hearing loss, the slowing of reflexes and changes in vision.

The class is called 55 Alive, Mrs. Musser said, because it is around the age of 55 that physical changes begin to affect seniors' driving skills.

As people age, for example, their eyes change in ways that allow less light to enter. Focusing the eye also takes longer, and depth perception and peripheral vision decrease.

"Approximately 20 percent of those 55 and over have impaired hearing," Mrs. Musser said.

Also, she said, medications taken for illnesses that may accompany the aging process can cause drowsiness or vision problems that seniors need to recognize.

The good news is that seniors often can compensate for these physical changes with relatively simple tactics.

For example, keeping your car's headlights clean gives you more light. Learning to turn one's head more helps compensate for loss of peripheral vision.

Allowing greater following distances and allowing more time when passing make decreased depth perception less of a handicap. And learning to recognize the shape and color of road signs makes being able to read the printing on them less important.

Mrs. Musser said three insurance companies -- AARP (Hartford Underwriters), Geico and Colonial Penn -- offer seniors a 10 percent discount on premiums for completing the 55 Alive course.

The 55 Alive class will be taught again in the fall, Mrs. Musser said.

It costs $8, including materials.

Information: 756-2224.

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