Driving linked to good health

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Driving linked to good health
Driving linked to good health

Older adults who stop driving are at increased risk for several physical and mental health issues compared with those who remain behind the wheel, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University.

“The decision to stop driving, whether voluntary or involuntary, appears to contribute to a variety of health problems for seniors,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Those problems include a doubled risk of depression, accelerated cognitive decline over 10 years, diminished productivity and low participation in daily life activities, and a 51% reduction in the size of social networks over 13 years. But there also can come a time when driving becomes a danger to an older adult and others on the road.

So how can senior living communities help their residents continue to be able to drive or maintain good health after they have stopped driving? Based on the report, which includes a review of 16 studies, communities can:

  • suggest that residents complete a self-assessment program such as the AAA's Roadwise Review and then address any issues identified;
  • recommend investigating and practicing using alternative forms of transportation such as public transit, paratransit and volunteer driver programs; and 
  • advise residents to exercise their brains through activities such as crossword puzzles and reading, to extend the years behind the wheel and help preserve health afterward.

For those who already have “retired” from driving or plan to do so soon, recommend that residents commit to staying active and connected to friends, family and the community.

“Maintaining independence by continuing to drive safely is important to overall health and well-being,” Kissinger said. “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.”

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