Senior Safety: When Is It Time to Hand Over the Car Keys?by Diane Domina Content Production Editor
For many of us, the ability to drive contributes to a more satisfying, more independent life, especially as we age. In fact, about 86 percent of Americans over age 65 in the United States maintain valid driver’s licenses. Vehicle safety concerns and fatal crash rates based on distances driven increase significantly in older adults.
But when older adults stop driving due to health problems or other concerns, they sometimes experience isolation and depression and are more likely enter a long-term care facility.
While extensive research has been done to evaluate driving safety in older adults with dementia, far less is known about safe driving in seniors with mild cognitive decline. In a study published in the Journal of the America Geriatrics Society, researchers used data from the ongoing Adult Changes in Thought study, which started in 2002, as well as the Washington State crash database and Washington’s Department of Licensing to see if there was a link between cognitive function and crash risk in older drivers who did not have dementia.
The researchers followed 2,615 participants for an average of 6.7 years or until they dropped out of the study, passed away, were diagnosed with dementia, or did not renew their driver’s license. They collected data about crashes resulting in injury, death, or property damage of at least $1,000. In older drivers without dementia, lower levels of cognitive function and depression were both associated with a higher risk for motor vehicle accidents.