Can Driving Ward off Dementia and Depression?
A new study has found that driving may reduce the risk of dementia and boost cognitive function for older drivers. An increase in depression is also closely linked with the loss of independence when an older person stops driving.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York examined the health and well-being of older adults after they stopped driving and found that their health worsened in a variety of ways. In particular, stopping driving nearly doubled the risk of depressive symptoms, while also contributing to diminished cognitive abilities and physical functioning.
“For many older adults, driving is more than a privilege; it is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom and independence,” says Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study. Dr Li and the team evaluated the data from 16 studies relating to drivers aged 55 and over.
Data showed that older adults experienced faster declines in cognitive function and physical health after stopping driving. It also showed that the social networks of friends and relatives was substantially reduced after an individual stopped driving. This appeared greater in women than in men.
Driving could boost cognitive function, staving off conditions like dementia.
Former drivers were also nearly five times as likely as current drivers to be admitted to a nursing home, assisted community living or retirement home.
“As older ex-drivers begin substituting outside activities with indoor activities around the home, these activities may not be as beneficial to physical functioning as working or volunteering on the outside,” said Thelma Mielenz, PhD and co-author of the study. “When time comes to stop driving, it is important to make personalised plans to maintain mobility and social functions.”
The researchers noted that simply making alternative transport available to ex-drivers didn’t necessarily offset the adverse effects of driving cessation.
They concluded, “What we need most of all are effective programs that can ensure and prolong an older adult’s mobility, physical and social functioning.”
Currently in the UK all drivers need to renew their driving licence when they reach the age of 70 and every three years from then on. A medical or driving test is not required to do this. As long as you don’t have any medical condition which affects your driving, you can decide to stop when it feels appropriate for you.