Older Drivers, Beware: Giving Up Your Keys = Greater Health Problems

Older adults, who have stopped driving, are nearly two times more likely to suffer from depression, a new AAA study reports. The study, “Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adult,” also found these older drivers are nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility compared to those who remain behind the wheel.

Released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University, the study examined the health and mental well-being impact this lifestyle change has on older adults who gave up driving permanently.

Since the number of drivers aged 65 and older continues to increase in the U.S. and with nearly 81% of the nearly 40 million seniors in this age group still behind the wheel, this study points out how important it is to understand the effects of this lifestyle change has on older adults.

The AAA Foundation report examined declines in general health and physical, social, and cognitive functions in former drivers. Once older drivers give up their keys, the study found, they experienced a decline in productivity and activities outside the home; a significant reduction in their social networks; and an accelerated decline in their cognitive abilities. Former drivers were also five times as likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility while their risk of depression doubled.

“Maintaining independence by continuing to drive safely is important to overall health and well-being,” said Lloyd Albert, AAA Northeast’s senior vice president of public affairs. “When the decision is made to relinquish the keys, it’s vital to mitigate the potential negative effects through programs that allow seniors to remain mobile and socially connected,”

To remain mobile, senior drivers should:

Stay on top of your fitness to drive. AAA’s Roadwise Review is a free and easy self-assessment program that can flag potential physical and mental health barriers to continued safe driving. Taking control of your mobility can lead to more successful transitioning if and when the time comes.

Take a class. Defensive driving classes geared toward older drivers, such as the AAA Driver Improvement Program, provide information designed to help drivers stay on the road, longer and safer. For free classes, visit www.aaa.com/driverimprovement.

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. Seek out access to public transit, volunteer driver programs and friends and family who can drive you.

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

No keys, no problem. If you have already retired from driving or know you must do so soon, commit to staying active and connected with friends, family and community. Combine daily errands 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 helps 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.

AAA Northeast is a not-for-profit auto club with 60 offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York providing more than 5.2 million local AAA members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services.

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