Around 81% of older US adults still have a license and drive regularly, with the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration stating that one in every five drivers on the road is 65 or above. Driving has many documented benefits, including the improvement of higher cognitive functions like spatial memory, a feeling of greeting independence, and potential money savings. Moreover, a study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has found that seniors double their risk of depressive symptoms, and of cognitive and physical decline when they stop driving. The decline is stronger in female than male drivers.
Driving Is a Vital Instrument of Daily Living
Older adults not only experience faster cognitive and physical declines when they stop driving, but they also have a 51% reduction in the size of their social networks. This can affect the social lives of seniors and their ability to interact socially. Having a social life brings important health benefits to seniors, including a potentially lower risk of dementia and physical problems such as cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, and arthritis. The study also showed that ex-drivers were almost five times more likely than current drivers to be admitted to a nursing home or assisted living community.
Indoor Activities Can Be Less Beneficial
Seniors who stop driving usually replace this activity with indoor activities. However, these can be less beneficial from driving, since taking the wheel can promote greater mobility and activity. For instance, drivers visiting friends or meeting them in public spaces may need to walk from their parking space to the meeting point. Moreover, seniors can take their vehicles to meeting points, from which they can take part in activities such as walking, cycling, or mountain walks take place.
Strategies for Lengthening the Driving Experience
In order to lengthen the time that they drive, seniors should adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and a Mediterranean diet (which is high and fiber and fresh fruits and vegetables). They should also avoid the excessive consumption of alcohol, since even if they are not on medication, seniors can have an increased sensitivity to alcohol. It is vital to abstain from driving if they have consumed alcohol, since DUIs can remain on licenses for years and can be a factor in licenses being revoked.
New Tech That Could Help Seniors Drive Longer
EPAM Continuum, a consultancy group, is developing a technology called Silverkey that is catered to lengthening the driving experience for mature adults. Silverkey has four aims: to help seniors improve weaknesses, bring their families into the equation to improve safety, help seniors identify when it is no longer safe to drive, and (when they are no longer driving) connect them with seniors who are still driving. The technology has a feature that helps seniors know when and where it is safe to merge as well as the speed they should employ when doing so. EPAM envisions the system taking over if there is a close call, giving drivers a 10-second pause to cool down.
The vast majority of seniors in the US are still driving. Doing so is linked to better physical and mental health, and it enables seniors to have a healthier social life. Consultancy group, EPAM, is leading the way when it comes to helping seniors identify and improve weak spots, and connect with drivers when they are no longer taking the wheel themselves.