When Seniors Stop Driving, Worse Health May Result
Depression and mental, physical declines stood out in research review
By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 3, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who give up driving may see their mental and physical well-being decline, a new research review finds.
The review of 16 published studies found that seniors tended to show poorer health after they stopped driving -- particularly in terms of depression.
Researchers said it's not clear that the health problems are a direct result of giving up the car keys.
But they said it's likely there is a vicious cycle: worsening health -- including vision problems, physical limitations and waning memory and judgment -- causes older people to stop driving. That, in turn, can speed their decline.
"This is a very complex issue," said senior researcher Dr. Guohua Li, founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
On one hand, Li said, older drivers need the necessary physical and mental skills to be safe behind the wheel. And at some point, many must give up driving.
On the other hand, that decision has significant consequences, Li said. Older adults who stop driving can feel socially isolated, which could feed depression. They may also become less physically active, which can exacerbate physical health conditions.
"It's a sensitive balance," Li said, "and the pros and cons of not driving need to be weighed on a case-by-case basis."
The review, published online recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, looked at 16 studies that compared older adults who'd stopped driving with those still on the road.
Five studies focused on depression symptoms. Overall, older adults were twice as likely to see worsening depression when they stopped driving, even when factors such as age, physical health and mental decline were taken into account.
"Driving cessation was most strongly associated with the risk of depression," Li said. "But the health effects were actually broader than that."
Some other studies found that after older drivers gave up their keys, they often reported worse physical functioning and showed faster declines in memory and other mental abilities.