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Arthritis In The Hands: Practical Advice For Senior Drivers

Arthritis in the hands can significantly impact the daily lives of senior drivers, affecting their ability to operate a vehicle comfortably and safely.

Understanding the condition and implementing practical strategies is essential for managing arthritis and maintaining independence on the road.

Having arthritis can make your joints swollen and stiff, which can limit how far you can bend or move your shoulders, hands, head and neck. This can make it harder to grasp or turn the steering wheel, apply the brake and gas pedals, put on your safety belt or look over your shoulder to check your blind spot.

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Tips For Senior Drivers With Arthritis

  1. Choosing the Right Car Features: Seniors with arthritis should consider vehicles with features such as power steering, automatic transmission, and larger, easier-to-grip controls to minimize the strain on their hands while driving.
  2. Disease Management: Properly managing arthritis through medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments is crucial for reducing pain and improving hand mobility.
  3. Hand Exercises and Adaptive Equipment: Simple hand exercises, including knuckle bends, fist stretches, and thumb stabilizations, can help improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness1. Additionally, using adaptive equipment like steering wheel covers and built-up handles can make driving more comfortable for seniors with arthritis.

Coping Strategies For Driving With Arthritis

  1. Mindful Self-Care: Seniors should practice joint protection techniques and be mindful of their hand movements to minimize strain and discomfort while driving.
  2. Pain Management: It’s important for senior drivers to have a plan for managing hand pain during longer drives, such as taking breaks to stretch and relax their hands.
  3. Balancing Independence with Assistance: While maintaining independence is valuable, seniors should be open to seeking assistance or carpooling for longer or more challenging driving situations.

Driving Assessments

I would recommend that you speak to your physician about getting a driving evaluation by an Occupational Therapist (OT) who specializes in driving skills and mobility aids for drivers.

This specially trained OT will be able to help you identify the specific driving skills that your arthritis may be affecting and then give you the recommendations and tools to help you drive safely.

If your physician is not familiar with Occupational Therapy or an OT who can do this you can search for a driving rehabilitation specialist here.

Car Adaptations For Arthritis

You can find the tools that we mention here.

If you have a new car you can ask the dealer about adaptive features that may help you drive with arthritis.

For example, you might want to get a car with:

  • Automatic transmission
  • Power steering and brakes
  • Hand controls or other devices that can help you grip the wheel or operate the pedals
  • Backup camera

If you have an older car, there are also many products that you can use to make it easier and safer for you.

Manual Transmissions (Stick Shift)

First – I do want to say that if you have a vehicle with a manual transmission (i.e. stick shift) – that as your arthritis progresses it will only be harder and harder for you to drive that vehicle.

So, if it’s possible – I strongly recommend that you trade in your car for one that has an automatic transmission and as many of the following features as possible:

  • power steering
  • power brakes
  • push button keyless starter
  • keyless entry (to lock and unlock your car doors)
  • 6 way power seat
  • heated seats (especially if you live in colder climates)
  • backup camera (especially if your arthritis is in your neck)
  • power trunk release
  • cruise control
  • built in navigation system

The best type of cars for anyone with arthritis in their hands or elsewhere are ones that have as many of these features and special controls as possible.

Of course, if you suffer from other ailments that have the same common conditions as arthritis, these tools can help you too.

Steering Wheels

Depending on the severity of the arthritis in your hands – you can choose from any of these products below.

Many of these will go a long way in helping you to drive safer.

Easy Turn Spinner Knobs – these are great hand controls. if gripping the steering wheel is difficult because of your arthritic joints then using a spinner knob can make it much easier to drive and handle your steering wheel. You can even put one on either side of your steering wheel.

Textured Steering Wheel Covers – gripping a steering wheel that has texture and maybe some bulk can help some arthritis sufferers to better manage driving. A textured steering wheel cover can make it easier to get a good grip on the wheel.cover

Heated Steering Wheel Covers – if you live in a cold climate – the arthritis in your hands might be more bothersome during the winter. This is where a heated steering wheel cover could come in handy to help you drive safer.

If you have been recently diagnosed with arthritis and are in the early stages of this medical condition, I would recommend to begin using these products as soon as possible.

The more comfortable you become with them, the easier they will be to adapt to if your symptoms worsen.

Seat Belts

Arthritic hands can make it difficult to handle simple tasks like using a seat belt.

Rest assured – there are products that you can use to make it easier.

Seat Belt Grabber Handle – this little inexpensive tool is a great product to use if you have trouble managing your seat belt or reaching over to use it.

Seat Belt Buckle Holder – this buckle holder can make it just a bit easier to find and manage seat belt buckles.

Seat Belt Unbuckler – but if you are having trouble unbuckling a seat belt – then this product may be the key to making it just a bit easier.

Car Seat Cushion

If your arthritis is also in your hips and lower back and you don’t have a car with heated seats – well – you can certainly add one!

A highly rated one on Amazon is the…

HealthMate Velour Heated Seat – this wonderful and fairly inexpensive addition to your car seat can help to make driving more comfortable and safer.

Car Cane Mobility Aid

This wonderful tool is for anyone who has decreased hand strength or hip and back pain or mobility loss due to arthritis.

Stander HandyBar Car Can Plus – It’s a multi use portable grab bar tool which is inexpensive and honestly, I do believe it should be in every person’s vehicle. It’s one of the best things available for all car owners.

Gas Cap Removers

If the arthritis in your hands makes it painful or impossible to turn your car’s gas cap – there is a solution.

Freedom Gas Cap Wrench – another inexpensive and simple tool that you may be able to use to make it possible and/or less painful to deal with your car’s gas cap when it’s time to fill it up.

Gear Shifts With A Button

We recently received an email from a reader asking if there was anything that could make it easier for someone with arthritic hands to manage a car’s gear shifter with a button.

Whether the button is on the side or on top – if you have arthritis in your hands – it may be difficult to press that button to move the gear shift.

I was only able to find one product, a Gearshift Easy Release which seems to possibly do the trick (not sure).

My recommendation was to contact the car’s dealership and/or an auto mechanic to find out if that particular gear shift could be replaced with one that did not have a trigger button.

General Products

There are some products that you can use not only for driving but for performing everyday activities if you have arthritis.

  • Arthritis gloves – There are many different types of arthritis gloves on the market. They are designed to help relieve hand pain and inflammation in the hands. Many of them also have built-in support to help stabilize the joints.
  • Knee brace – If you have arthritis in your knees, a knee brace can help to stabilize the joint and relieve pain.
  • Key turner – These add-ons to your keys can make it easier to turn them.

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