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 as 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 ages 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; and former drivers were
- Five times as likely to be admitted to a long term care facility.
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.
“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.
As a leading advocate for senior driver safety AAA provides many programs and resources for senior drivers including Roadwise Review. Roadwise Review Online is a free, confidential; screening/self-assessment tool developed by AAA to help older driver’s measure certain mental and physical abilities important for safe driving. In as little as 30 minutes, users can identify and get further guidance on the physical and mental skills that need improvement—all in the privacy of their own home.
For more information on all the free resources AAA offers to older drivers, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
In addition to Roadwise Review, older drivers may find out about future Southern California senior driver CarFit events by going to www.car-fit.org. CarFit is a free program offered by AAA, AOTA and AARP which highlights actions senior drivers can take to improve their fit and to promote conversations about driver safety. Typically offered at community events, CarFit runs older drivers through a 12-point checklist with trained technicians who assess the fit of a driver’s personal vehicle by checking for optimum settings such proper mirror adjustments and the distance from the steering wheel to increase the driver’s safety.
The next Los Angeles-area CarFit event will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 25, at the Culver City Senior Center, 4095 Overland Ave. For information, please contact Darren Uhl at 310-253-6700. In Orange County, the next CarFit will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the Lakeview Senior Center, 20 Lake Road, Irvine. For information and reservations, please call Karen Springer at 949-724-6926.
“But if you’ve already retired from driving or know you’ll be soon, commit to staying active and connected to friends, family and community,” said the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Community Programs and Traffic Safety Manager Anita Lorz Villagrana. “Combine trips like shopping 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 isolation, depression and cognitive decline,” she added.