AAA Study Shows Giving Up Driving Linked to Health Problems in Older Adults

DENVER, July 23, 2015 – Older adults who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression, and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility, than those who remain behind the wheel, according to a new report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University.  The study examined older adults who have permanently given up driving and the impact it has on their health and mental well-being. The importance of understanding the effects this lifestyle change has on older adults is essential, as the number of drivers aged 65 and older continues to increase in the United States with nearly 81 percent of the 39.5 million seniors in this age group still behind the wheel.

 

“This comprehensive review of research confirmed the consequences of driving cessation in older adults,” Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The decision to stop driving, whether voluntary or involuntary, appears to contribute to a variety of health problems for seniors, particularly depression as social circles are greatly reduced.”

 

The AAA Foundation’s report on Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adults examined declines in general health and physical, social, and cognitive functions in former drivers. With the cessation of driving, the study found:

 

  • Diminished productivity and low participation in daily life activities outside of the home
  • Risk of depression nearly doubled
  • 51 percent reduction in the size of social networks over a 13-year period
  • Accelerated decline in cognitive ability over a 10-year period
  • Former drivers were five times as likely to be admitted to a long term care facility

“Maintaining independence by continuing to drive safely is important to overall health and well-being. When the decision is made to relinquish the keys, it is vital to mitigate the potential negative effects through participation in programs that allow seniors to remain mobile and socially connected,” said Kissinger.

The latest report in the AAA Foundation’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project, Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adults consisted of a systemic literature review of previously published studies pertinent to the health consequences of driving cessation. Sixteen studies met the criteria for inclusion. The full report can be viewed here.

Suggestions to maintain driving independence

 

  1. Stay on top of your fitness to drive.  AAA’s Roadwise Review is a free and easy self-assessment program that is proven to flag potential physical and mental health barriers to continued safe driving.  Discuss your results with your healthcare provider to address any issues and extend your safe driving years, or plan for a transition from driver to passenger if necessary.  Taking control of your mobility can lead to more successful transitioning if and when the time comes.

 

  1. Plan early and practice getting around without driving. Combat a perceived loss of control by folding transportation into your retirement plans.  Where you live might change if you consider the possibility of not being able to drive.  Access to public transit, paratransit, volunteer driver programs and friends and family who can drive you is important. Also, practice utilizing these alternatives to driving to reach all of the destinations important to you.  Building comfort and confidence in using these services before you must rely on them can dramatically change your view of stopping driving.

 

  1. Use it or lose it. Whether it’s solving crossword puzzles, Sudoku or getting lost in your favorite book, exercising your brain can extend your years behind the wheel and help to preserve your heath even after you retire from driving.

If you have already retired from driving or know you must do so soon, commit to staying active and connected to friends, family and community.  Combine trips to address daily responsibilities like shopping for groceries or seeing your doctor, with social activities like seeing friends or volunteering in the community.  Doing so will keep you active, engaged and socially connected, which research has shown will help combat adverse health effects like social isolation, depression and cognitive decline.

 

For more information on all the free resources AAA offers to older drivers, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

 

Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and research organization. Dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads, the Foundation’s mission is to prevent crashes and save lives through research and education about traffic safety. The Foundation has funded over 200 research projects designed to discover the causes of traffic crashes, prevent them and minimize injuries when they do occur.  Visit  www.AAAFoundation.org for more information on this and other research.