How Driving Affects Health in Older Adults

Older adults who stop driving suffer various health impacts

Keeping Grandma and Grandpa behind the wheel might be more consequential for their health then previously thought.

A review of multiple studies on older adults and driving indicated that when people stopped driving, it lead to decreased physical and mental health.

Senior author Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, and colleagues analyzed data from 16 studies on drivers older than the age of 55. People who stopped driving reported they were less productive and did not participate as much in outside activities.

Women were more likely to report declines in social activities than men.

"For many older adults, driving is more than a privilege. It is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom, and independence," Li commented in a press release.

The studies also included data on health outcomes. Dr. Li and her team found that when older adults stopped driving, their general health declined significantly within five years of driving cessation.

Over a 10-year period, former drivers were more likely to have cognitive problems than those of similar age who were still driving. One study found that former drivers were five times more likely to be admitted to long-term care facilities than current drivers.

"It is almost inevitable to face the decision to stop driving during the aging process as cognitive and physical functions decline," Li commented in a press release.

Pooled study data indicated that the risk of depression almost doubled in former drivers compared to current drivers. The researchers note that older adults who cannot drive safely should not drive. However, the loss of social interaction may be a factor in declining mental health. Alternative transportation and public health programs can help improve the situation.

"When decision time comes, it is important to take into consideration the potential for adverse health consequences of driving cessation and to make personalized plans to maintain mobility and social activities,” Li added in the press release.

Dr. Li is also a professor of epidemiology and the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University.

The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Funding for the study was provided by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) Project and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

None of the authors reported a conflict of interest.