The study looked at driving habits and social activities, like
visiting friends and family or going out to dinner or the movies,
for more than 4,300 adults over age 65.
With wheels, older adults were much more likely to be out and about
than their peers who never drove, the study found. But after elderly
drivers lost the ability to hit the road, their participation in
social activities declined to match their peers who never drove at
“Social participation in old age is linked with both physical and
mental health benefits,” said study author Teja Pristavec, a
sociology researcher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New
“Older adults who remain engaged in social life report being in
better health, experience lower mortality risk over time, and have
lower rates of depression, dementia, and other cognitive
impairments,” Pristavec added by email. “Transportation mobility is
often crucial for such continued social participation.”
Pristavec looked at survey data collected in 2011 and 2013 from
people enrolled in Medicare, the U.S. health insurance program for
Compared with seniors who had stopped driving, frequent drivers were
more than three times as likely to visit friends and family and
almost three times as likely to participate in social outings like
going to the movies, Pristavec reported in the Journal of
Gerontology: Social Science.
Frequent drivers were also more than twice as likely to attend
religious services or organized group activities, the study found.
The analysis didn’t include data on at whether seniors lived in
rural or urban communities or whether they had easy access to public
transportation, however, or how close they lived to friends or
relatives who might be able to give them rides.
At least some people in the study may have stopped driving because
they were depressed and uninterested in driving, or were physically
unable to drive, noted Raymond Bingham, a researcher at the
University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann
Arbor who wasn’t involved in the study.
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Because the study didn’t account for physical or mental health
impairments, it’s hard to say whether these problems caused seniors
to stop driving or if the reverse is true – that losing access to
transportation led to these problems, Bingham said by email.
In some instances, families and physicians will get clear signs it’s
time for a driver to stop getting behind the wheel – such as when
older drivers make several right turns to avoid left turns at
intersections or when they insist on having a passenger to help
navigate so they can concentrate on traffic, Bingham noted.
But there’s also a broad gray area where seniors may not be the best
drivers on the road but they’re not doing anything that’s an obvious
“In that gray margin it would be important to consider how far the
elderly patients have to drive to get to their destinations, how
often do they need to drive, and whether or not there are safer
alternatives available to them,” Bingham added by email.
“I think it would be a difficult balance,” Bingham said. “My parents
decided for themselves that they were ready to quit driving, so I
never had to intervene, for which I was grateful.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1RJHuTv Journal of Gerontology: Social
Science, online May 12, 2016.
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