Auto aids that can help senior drivers

By Jim Miller, The Savvy Senior | Aug 19, 2009
Dear Savvy Senior,

I've heard that there are different gadgets or devices you can buy for your car that can help older drivers. I've lost a lot of flexibility over the years and have a hard time getting in and out of my car, and my wife struggles with arthritis in her hands which causes her some problems too. What's available that can help keep us mobile?

Stiff Driver

Dear Driver,

There are lots of gadgets and devices on the market today that can help make driving easier and safer for seniors. Here's a breakdown of some popular budget-friendly products that can help with a variety needs.

Mobility and Flexibility

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 37,000 people age 65 and older are injured by simply entering or exiting their vehicle. If mobility problems or limited range of motion is hampering your ability to get in and out of your car, look over your shoulder to back-up or merge into traffic, or even reach for your seatbelt, here are some items that can help:

Handybar: This is a portable support handle that inserts into the U-shaped striker plate on the door frame that helps with getting into and out of the vehicle.

Car caddie: This is another type of portable handle that hooks around the top of your door window frame giving you something to hold onto while getting out of the car.

Swivel seat cushion: A round portable cushion that turns 360 degrees to help older drivers and passengers rotate their body into the car.

Panoramic (or wide-view) rear view mirror: These attach to your existing rear view mirror to widen your rear visibility and eliminate blind spots so you can see traffic without significant neck or body rotation. It also helps during parking.

Convex (or wide-angle) side view mirrors: These attach to the existing side view mirrors to improve side and rear vision.

Easy reach seat belt handle: This is a six-inch extension handle that attaches to your seat belt to make it easier to reach.

Arthritic hands

Drivers who have arthritic or weak hands may find the tasks of turning the ignition key to start the car, or twisting open the gas cap to fill up, difficult and painful. Items that can help include an "easy-to-grasp key holder," which is a small handle device that attaches to your car keys to provide additional leverage making it easier to turn the key in the ignition or door.

And for help at the pump, a gas cap turner makes removing the gas cap a breeze. Another comfy add-on is a steering wheel cover that fits over your existing steering wheel to make it larger in size and easier to grip.

Sensitivity to glare

Aging eyes almost always become more sensitive to glare. A fantastic item that can help is the "Sun Zapper Glare Shield" a device that clips right on to your existing sun visor to remove sun glare without obstructing vision. It also comes with a special sliding shield that lets you block extra-bright glare spots.

Small drivers

Most seniors shrink a little as they get older (due to gravity and osteoporosis) and for those who were small to start with, it can be difficult seeing over the steering wheel, or reaching the pedals without being too close to the airbag. Solutions include getting an orthopedic (wedge-shaped) seat cushion that supports the back and elevates you a few extra inches to help you see. Or foot pedal extensions that allow you to reach the gas and brake pedals while keeping you 10-to-12-inches from the steering wheel. These cost around $200 and need to be installed by a professional.

Shopping tips

All of these items (except the foot pedal extensions) cost less than $40, and can be found online at a variety of locations.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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