What Types of Medical Conditions Can Affect a Person’s Ability to Drive Safely?

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Alcohol isn’t the only thing that can impair driving ability. There are numerous medical conditions that can make driving difficult or dangerous, ranging from eye and vision problems to conditions that might affect judgment.

Let’s look at some of the more common conditions that can affect driving ability.

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driving with medical conditions

Medical conditions that affect driving

1. Cataracts

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes opaque, causing blurred vision. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes and are very common. However, driving safely requires clear vision, so cataracts can have a major impact on your performance behind the wheel. The impact depends on the progression of the cataracts.

Early stages may not cause much trouble, but in later stages, the blurred vision can cause issues like glare from headlights, poor night vision, and double vision. In most cases, corrective surgery is available to relieve symptoms and make driving possible again.

2. Dementia

Dementia is a condition affecting memory, thinking, and social skills. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but it can also be caused by stroke, brain injury, and other diseases.

Dementia can make driving unsafe. It impairs judgment, memory, and decision-making skills. While individuals might still be able to drive safely in the very early stages of dementia, their condition should be monitored closely. Dementia is nearly always progressive, and eventually driving will become too risky and dangerous.

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Consider a GPS tracker

GPS trackers can prevent your loved one from wandering and help you find them if they get lost. Check out our guide on the best GPS trackers for people with Dementia, focused on features for comfort, battery life, and accuracy.

Medical Guardian has a GPS-enabled medical alert device called the Mini Guardian.  It provides access to professional monitors 24/7 at the push of a button, and you can check the location of a loved one at any time through the companion app. The Mini Guardian is ideal for people who are in the early stages of dementia, live independently, and haven't experienced significant cognitive declines.

GPS tracker with professional monitoring

3. Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of vision loss, especially among people over age 60. This is called age-related macular degeneration, and it refers to progressive worsening and loss of vision as people get older.

Macular degeneration can cause distortion in your central field of vision and make objects appear less sharp and defined. It can make seeing road signs, pedestrians, and objects in the road very difficult. There is no cure for macular degeneration. If the condition continues to progress and driving becomes unsafe, individuals may need to find alternative means of transportation.

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What to do when driving isn't an option

Many senior transportation options specifically cater to those in their silver and golden years. Check out our guide Best Transportation and Ride Share Programs for Seniors.

4. Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurring seizures. It has many causes, including genetic disorders, brain injury, and stroke. Epilepsy is typically treated with anticonvulsant medications, although they are not always completely effective. Sometimes surgery is required.

As seizures cause a temporary loss of awareness or consciousness, driving with uncontrolled epilepsy could be a major safety risk. Many people with epilepsy will be subject to restricted driving privileges unless they can prove that the condition is controlled and that they have been seizure-free for a period of time. The exact requirements vary from state to state.

There are many more conditions that can impact driving ability, but these are the most common.

To learn more about safety on the road, read through our Car Safety Guide. If you worry that you or a loved one aren’t able to follow the tips in that guide due to a medical issue, it may be time to visit a doctor to evaluate the problem.


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*$19.95 Medical Alert starting price for landline in-home system with annual plan paid up front. Month-to-month plans start at $27.95/mo.

Data effective 05/13/2021. Offers and availability subject to change.

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Save money and stay connected with an AARP membership

With an AARP membership, you can get a 15% discount on a Lifeline medical alert system, in addition to discounts on hotels, restaurants, prescriptions and more. You also get the AARP magazine, access to virtual learning programs, and can connect with other AARP members in your community.

Celeste Tholen
Written by
Celeste Tholen
Celeste has dedicated her decade-long career to reporting and reviews that help people make well-informed decisions. She oversees editorial strategy and production for SafeWise, with a goal to help everyone find the information they need to make their homes and lives safer. Prior to SafeWise, she worked as an editor and reporter for KSL and Deseret News. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. In her free time, she volunteers at the local botanical garden and writers for the community newspaper.

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