Seniors with cognitive decline continue to drive.

Seniors with cognitive decline continue to drive.

Driving and Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults: A Conversation Worth Having

Older Adults Driving

It’s not easy to convince older adults with mental decline to stop driving, but according to researchers, it’s a conversation that is not only necessary but crucial. The alarming truth is that a significant number of older adults with cognitive impairment still get behind the wheel, putting themselves and others at risk.

A study conducted in a South Texas community by Michigan Medicine researchers sheds light on this issue. The study focused on over 600 adults aged 65 and above in Nueces County, assessing their cognitive abilities and identifying any signs of impairment. Shockingly, more than 61% of these adults were active drivers, despite the cognitive concerns raised by their caregivers.

Dr. Lewis Morgenstern, senior author of the study and a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, emphasized the need for communication between patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers regarding driving and cognitive impairment. He suggests that discussing this issue and considering on-the-road driving evaluations can help ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Dementia is a prevalent condition among older adults, with Alzheimer’s disease affecting 1 in 9 Americans aged 65 and above, totaling around 6.7 million individuals. These conditions can have a profound impact on neuropsychological and visual skills, hampering the ability to drive safely. A comprehensive review conducted in 2017 confirmed that dementia has a significant effect on driving impairment, increasing the likelihood of failing a road test compared to those without cognitive decline.

Interestingly, the research also found that individuals with greater cognitive impairment were less likely to be active drivers. Moreover, many participants in the study self-regulated their driving behaviors, limiting their total driving time and avoiding challenging conditions such as driving at night or in the rain.

Having discussions about driving with caregivers and individuals experiencing cognitive decline can be incredibly challenging. Concerns about losing autonomy, potential embarrassment, and adding an extra burden on caregivers are factors that make these conversations difficult. However, initiating these discussions early, while the care recipient is still cognitively capable of understanding, is crucial.

Dr. Morgenstern suggests encouraging close family members to engage in conversations about Advance Driving Directives, which involve agreements between aging individuals and their loved ones regarding when to have discussions about driving cessation.

The study results were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and were supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Key Takeaways:

  • Conversations about driving cessation are crucial for older adults with cognitive impairment.
  • More than 61% of older adults with cognitive impairment still drive despite concerns raised by caregivers.
  • Dementia has a significant impact on driving impairment and increases the likelihood of failing a road test.
  • Individuals with greater cognitive impairment are less likely to be active drivers, and many self-regulate their driving habits.
  • Initiating conversations about driving early, while the care recipient is still capable of understanding, is recommended.
  • Advance Driving Directives can help facilitate discussions about driving cessation between aging individuals and their loved ones.
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Source: Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, News Release, July 20, 2023

Additional Information: For more information on cognitive decline, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.