New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that increased fatigue and poor physical functioning are leading factors that can result in older adults limiting their driving. But simple steps, like weekly exercise and stretching, can improve safe driving abilities and keep older adults on the road longer.
The AAA Foundation commissioned researchers at Columbia University to evaluate eight domains- depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbance, pain interference, physical functioning, pain intensity and participation in social activities - to determine how changes in physical, mental and social health affect driving mobility for older adults. The report found that fatigue and poor physical functioning are most common among older drivers who spend less time behind the wheel.
“Older adults who give up the keys are more likely to suffer from depression than those who remain behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It is important that we find ways to keep older drivers in good physical health to extend their mobility.”
The senior population in California is growing rapidly and the state has more adults over age 65 than any other. In 2015, the number of California seniors was 7.3 million, according to a UC Berkley report.
Research shows that daily exercise and stretching can help older drivers to improve overall body flexibility and move more freely to observe the road from all angles. Physical strength also helps drivers remain alert to potential hazards on the road and perform essential driving functions, like:
- Looking to the side and rear
- Adjusting the safety belts
- Sitting for long periods of time
“Maintaining overall wellness, including flexibility is integral to driving and helps to prevent fatigue while behind the wheel,” said Anita Lorz Villagrana, Public Affairs Manager, Community Programs & Traffic Safety for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “Being alert and aware is imperative to driving safely and to recognize potential hazards on the road.”
AAA, along with AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) also offer CarFit programs designed to help seniors over age 55 learn how the effects of aging change the way they “fit” in their vehicle and how a proper fit can greatly increase safety. The program consists of a 12-pt. checklist that reviews seat-belt adjustment, foot pedals and mirrors so that a driver and their vehicle may work together as best as possible. Go to www.car-fit.org for a list of upcoming CarFit events.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends older adults, who are physically able, get between 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week or between 75 minutes to 2.5 hours of high-intensity physical activity. The exercises should include balance training as well as aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Older adults should consult their doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. They should also talk with a healthcare provider about ways to combat fatigue. Prioritizing getting at least seven hours of sleep each night can help older adults stay alert behind the wheel.
AAA recommends a series of stretches to improve neck, shoulder, trunk, back and overall body flexibility. As a leading advocate for senior driver safety, AAA also offers a variety of programs and resources to help older adults improve their driving performance and avoid crashes. For more information on AAA resources for older drivers, such as RoadWise online/classroom courses or other programs that help seniors better “fit” with their vehicles, visit www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
About LongROAD: Recognizing that lifestyle changes, and innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the baby boomer generation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety launched a ground-breaking, multi-year research program to more fully understand and meet the safety and mobility needs of older drivers in the United States. The AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study is one of the largest and most comprehensive databases available on senior drivers incorporating 2,990 participants being followed for five years. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.
About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit www.AAAFoundation.org.