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Seniors who keep driving are healthier

 - 27/09/2016

Continuing to drive for as long as possible does not simply keep older adults more independent: a recent American study has revealed that seniors who remain behind the wheel are also in better health.

A team of researchers of the Mailman School of Public Health (part of Columbia University, New York) reviewed 16 previous studies that had examined the health of drivers of both sexes aged 55 and over and then compared the results with the data of current drivers. Their study has shown that the risk of developing depressive symptoms is twice as high among older adults who stop driving. Former drivers were also nearly five times as likely to be admitted to a nursing or retirement home.

Similarly, despite the fact that many of these seniors had stopped driving due to a decline of their physical or cognitive capacities, the results of the study clearly demonstrated that this decline in health worsened when they stopped driving. Giving up driving also led to a 51% reduction in the social network of older adults, a fact that was even more striking among women. This factor can contribute to a decline in other health areas. “Older adults who have given up driving gradually replace outdoor activities with indoor and domestic activities, which may not be as beneficial to their physical health as part-time employment or charity work out of the house,” indicated Thelma Mielenz, co-author of the study. “When a person does have to give up driving, it is important to implement a personalised programme so that they can maintain their mobility and social life.”

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), seniors are among the safest drivers on the road; they have a lower risk of accidents, because they are more likely to wear their seatbelt and respect speed limits and less likely to drive after drinking alcohol.
However, in light of their growing fragility, seniors are naturally more likely to sustain serious injuries, sometimes moral, if they are involved in an accident. Taking into account this latter factor, in 2003 the AAA launched a campaign in the US (Lifelong Safe Mobility) intended to enable older adults to drive for as long and as safely as possible and also to remain mobile even after they have given up driving.

The results of the study are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


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