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Individuals came in with driving concerns and left with a sense of relief following Columbus Community Hospital’s first-ever CarFit event held May 22 at Columbus Wellness Center.

This educational program was collaboratively formed by the American Society of Aging, American Automobile Association (AAA), the American for Retired Person (AARP) and the American Occupational Therapy Association.

It was established to assess how well older individuals fit their vehicles, as well as providing safety education.

Attendee Kelly McGowan, 70, learned about the event during a presentation held last week at the Columbus Community Center and jumped at the opportunity to seek assistance.

McGowan suffers from arthritis in his neck -- causing pain and stiffness -- and said he grew concerned about being able to see drivers or pedestrians behind him.

He realized by attending CarFit that the side mirrors of his vehicle needed further adjustment to create wider scopes. In addition, he said he learned a neat trick to adjust his seat belt ensuring it fits appropriately.

“It’s not meant to determine if someone is safe to drive, it’s just meant to see how well older drivers fit their vehicles because we know when somebody fits their vehicles very well, they are safer when they’re driving,” said RaeChael Wilcox, occupational therapist at Rehabilitative Services.

Wilcox said CarFit is common in Lincoln and Omaha and that she felt community members in Columbus could benefit from the service, as well.

“Once older drivers age, I think it’s something that they fear is losing that ability to drive because it’s such a great source of independence for them and their ability to do social activities,” Wilcox said.

There were a total of three occupational therapists, two volunteers from AARP and two student occupational therapists on deck. Each participant was assisted by two trained professionals at a time, with checklists of adjustments in hand. The distance between the passenger and the steering wheel was measured to lessen the risk of injuries from airbags. Side and rear-view mirrors were also checked to make sure that they were at optimal scopes.

“We also consider as we age, our body changes whether it’s range of motion of your neck or your arm or muscular strengths,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox added when older individuals fit their vehicles appropriately, it lessens the chance of fatigue and they are more likely to operate their cars efficiently.

“If you can't reach your break or your gas pedal, or if you’re sitting too far away, then you’d have to use your muscles and you might fatigue so you might not be so efficient.  When you’re switching between the gas and the break or if you can’t reach it, then you can’t push it to stop in time if something were to run out in front of you,” she said.

Participants learned mirror placements were important to reduce blind spots, especially for older individuals who might have vision impairments.

Professionals came prepared with adaptive equipment to further aid participants who required extra assistance to reach their seatbelts or who had issues entering their cars. The hospital also showcased its rehabilitation vehicles with adaptations for participants to view.

While some individuals participated with concerns in mind, some merely wanted to learn more about precautionary steps to increase safety. Participant LuAnn Warth, 82, wanted to make sure that she was driving safely.

“My side mirrors, those had to be adjusted,” Warth said. “I had too much car showing when I looked at them so that was one thing that got corrected.”

Aside from older individuals, younger community members were also looking to resolve driving concerns they had, including participant Jessica Frovhner.

Frovhner was concerned about the distance between her and the steering wheel. Due to her height, she felt like she needed to sit closer to the wheel.

After going through the checklist with the professionals, Frovhner realized her risk of being injured by the airbag.

“So I am going to put my sit a little bit further away,” Frovhner said. “I am okay, I can still reach when I am a little bit backward.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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