(RxWiki News) Many adults have to stop driving cars once they reach old age. Not being able to drive anymore can cause mental distress and contribute to health problems.
A recent study found that older age, being a woman and being a minority were the biggest risk factors associated with not being able to drive currently or in the future.
The researchers suggested that knowing the risk factors can allow older adults, their families and their healthcare providers to discuss potential prevention plans before a person isn't able to drive anymore.
"Tell your doctor if health issues affect your ability to drive a car."
The lead author of this study was Elizabeth Dugan, PhD, from the Department of Gerontology in The McCormack Graduate School for Policy and Global Studies at The University of Massachusetts at Boston.
The current study used participant data on 17,349 people from six waves of a previous study called the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) from 1998 to 2008.
Of these participants, 59 percent were married, 79 percent were non-Hispanic white, 56 percent were women and 44 percent were men. The average age of participants was 75 years old.
The researchers asked the participants to self-report if they had ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, stroke or arthritis by a doctor. They also reported if they had ever experienced a fall or hip fracture.
Vision was rated by self-report, and education level was rated by number of years in school on a scale of 0 to 17.
Income levels were divided into four different groups, with the first income level group representing the participants with the lowest income and the fourth income level group representing the participants with the highest income.
Lastly, cognitive function (basic mental functioning) was measured by three tests with a total possible score of 0 to 35.
The findings showed that an average of 80 percent of the participants were driving during each wave of data.
The researchers found that the odds of current and future driving for participants with poor/fair eyesight decreased by 44 percent and 43 percent compared to participants with good eyesight. The participants with very good/excellent eyesight had increased odds of current and future driving of 20 percent and 18 percent compared to the participants with good eyesight.
Compared to those without diabetes, people with diabetes had 17 percent lower odds of current driving and 12 percent lower odds of future driving. Participants who had experienced a stroke were 39 percent less likely to be current drivers, and 36 percent less likely to drive in the future compared to participants who had not experienced a stroke.
Incidence of hip fracture gave the participants 34 percent decreased odds of current driving and 30 percent decreased odds of future driving compared to participants who did not have a hip fracture.
The researchers found that participants with better cognitive functioning were more likely be current drivers, as well as able to drive in the future compared to participants who had low cognitive functioning abilities.
Arthritis was the only condition that did not affect people from driving currently or in the future when compared to people without that condition. Participants with arthritis were 21 percent more likely to be a current driver and 16 percent more likely to be a future driver than participants who did not have arthritis.
The findings revealed that the men were 4.69 times more likely to be current drivers and 3.93 times more likely to be future drivers than the women. As age increased by one year, the odds of current driving decreased by 7 percent, and the odds of future driving decreased by 10 percent.
The researchers found that each year of education increased the odds of current and future driving by 8 percent and 5 percent. Non-Hispanic white participants were 2.26 times more likely to be current drivers and 2.15 times more likely to be future drivers compared to participants of other races.
Compared to the married participants, the never married participants were 52 percent less likely to be a current driver and 50 percent less likely to be a future driver.
Lastly, the researchers found that the participants in the second, third and fourth income groups were 1.64 times, 2.15 times and 2.76 times more likely to be current drivers compared to the participants in the lowest (first) income group. In addition, participants in the second, third and fourth income groups were 1.62 times, 1.96 times and 2.56 times more likely to be future drivers compared to the participants in the lowest income group.
The researchers believe that this information can help older people, as well as their families and healthcare providers, identify potential risk factors before they happen, therefore allowing older people to continue driving.
"Staying healthy is important in order to maintain your ability to drive a car," said Dr. David Winter, the Chief Clinical Officer, President and Chairman of the Board of HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), a division of Baylor Health Care System.
"Those with uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, hip fractures or a decline in mental functions can all reduce their chances of continuing to drive, according to [this] recent study. How do you prevent that? Take care of yourself. Keep your weight under control and exercise regularly, plus keep in touch with your doctor and make sure any medication you take is in the appropriate dosage for you," said Dr. Winter, who was not involved in this study.
The authors mentioned a couple limitations of their study. First, driving status was determined by self-report. Second, the HRS did not provide data on more detailed clinical and treatment information.
This study was published in the January edition of the Journal of Aging and Health.
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest and no financial support for this research.