Driving When You Have AMD

Old woman driving

How Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Affects Your Driving

Vision changes due to macular degeneration may make you wonder if it's safe to get behind the wheel. Although you will most likely need to give up driving if you have severe vision loss, driving may still be possible if you're in the early stages of the disease.

Wet Vs. Dry AMD and How It Changes Your Vision

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when cells in your macula begin to thin and deteriorate. The macula is located in the center part of the retina and is responsible for color and clear central vision.

Your ophthalmologist may diagnose you with either of these forms of macular degeneration:

  • Wet. New blood vessels grow in your macula and leak blood or fluids.
  • Dry. The macula becomes progressively thinner, causing changes to your vision.

Macular degeneration can cause blurry central vision or blank spots in your central vision, which can make reading, sewing, recognizing friends, cooking, using the computer, driving, and other tasks difficult.

The Challenges of Driving with Macular Degeneration

Blurriness or blind spots make it difficult to see traffic lights, spot obstacles, or people entering crosswalks. Obviously, this may affect your ability to drive safely, even if you're a careful driver.

Australian researchers were curious about the ways macular degeneration affects vision. They asked 33 drivers 65 and older with AMD to drive while being monitored by a driving instructor and an occupational therapist.

During the drive, the occupational therapist scored the driver on multiple tasks, including:

  • Lane position
  • Observation of blind spots
  • Use of turn signals
  • Scanning and attention
  • Gap selection between other cars and when entering traffic
  • Planning and preparation for hazards

The researchers reported that drivers with AMD had trouble with:

  • Choosing gaps in traffic when changing lanes or entering the road
  • Planning ahead when deciding whether to move forward or yield to traffic
  • Staying in their lane
  • Scanning and observing their surroundings
  • Changing lanes
  • Pulling in and out of traffic

Navigating intersections controlled by traffic lights were the most difficult situation for AMD drivers. The researchers theorized that this could be due to the multiple skills needed to drive through intersections, such as scanning the scene, making strategic decisions, and course planning.

Should You Drive If You Have AMD?

Despite the challenges, many people who have early AMD can drive safely. Regular visits with your ophthalmologist are particularly important if you've been diagnosed with macular degeneration. Although you may feel that you can see well, you may not realize the extent of your vision loss. Luckily, your ophthalmologist can perform a few tests that will help you determine if driving is a good idea for you.

Driving may be easier if you:

  • Avoid Night Driving. Glare from headlights can make it hard to see when you have AMD.
  • Turn Your Head. You may need to turn your head back and forth much more than usual if you have a blurry spot in your vision.
  • Stay Away from Busy Roads. Although driving around your neighborhood may pose no problem, it may be best to avoid highways or roads with complicated traffic patterns.
  • Only Drive When Conditions Are Ideal. Postpone trips if the weatherman forecasts storms.
  • Try Bioptic Telescope Glasses. Driving may be easier if you use glasses that contain tiny telescopes. The telescopes magnify objects in the distance. During the majority of your drive, you'll look through the main part of the glasses. A quick glance through the telescope will make it easier to read road signs or see an upcoming traffic light clearly. Your eye doctor can help you decide if these glasses will be helpful for you. The state motor vehicles department may require you to take a driving test to prove that you can drive safely while wearing the glasses.

Are you not sure if driving is a good idea for you? Contact our office to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.

Sources:

Bright Focus Foundation: Driving and Age-Related Macular Degeneration, 8/18/21

NCBI: Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science: Effects of Age-Related Macular Degeneration on Driving Performance: 1/2018

American Academy of Ophthalmology: What Is Macular Degeneration?, 1/26/21

International Academy of Low Vision Specialists: Driving with Bioptic Telescopic Glasses: Confusion, Controversy, False Assumptions, 11/2019

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