Current Study Focuses on Aging Drivers

By Reinhardt, Joann P. | Aging Today, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview

Current Study Focuses on Aging Drivers


Reinhardt, Joann P., Aging Today


This study is funded by the National Institute on Aging (ROIAG020579). Special thanks to Lighthouse International and their clients for their support with this project.

For older adults in our society, driving is more than an activity to accomplish daily tasks. Driving is a means to maintain socialization and carries a host of psychological meanings, including a sense of autonomy, independence and self-worth. Older adults experiencing age-related healtii declines typically resist giving up driving as long as they possibly can. Many, however, self-regulate meir driving patterns, such as not driving at night, a phenomenon referred to as a "driving cessation continuum" in a 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

ASSESSMENTS NEEDED

Most prior research on driving and aging focused on risk factors for unsafe driving, along with socio-demographic and medical factors associated with driving cessation. Little research has addressed the psychosocial influences on this decision, including the roles mat family, friends and professionals play.

We report here on several emerging themes from our current study, "Driving Transitions and Mental Health in Impaired Elders," funded by the National Institute on Aging. These themes have implications for professionals working with older adults and their family members, and can inform those professionals working with older adults who are concerned about driving because of vision and other chronic health problems.

This prospective study examines the short- and long-term mental health consequences of the transition from driver to ex-driver among visually impaired older adults. Poor vision is the most commonly cited reason older adults give for regulating or stopping driving, and an estimated 13%-2o% of adults ages 65 years and older report having functional vision problems, even when wearing corrective lenses. We also examine how the transition from driver to ex-driver may be more or less psychologically difficult for older adults, depending on an individual's personal resources, social resources and contextual resources (e.g., selfregulation abilities, social support and alternative transportation options).

The study respondents are 381 older drivers with visual problems who were recruited from a community-based vision rehabilitation agency and otiier community service organizations. Additionally, respondents were asked to identify a family member or friend most familiar with their driving ("contacts"); 215 contacts are also study participants. Older drivers are being interviewed at baseline, 6, 12, 18 and 24 months post-baseline, and their contacts are interviewed at baseline, with followups at 12 and 24 montiis. Follow-up data collection is still in progress, with completion anticipated in 2010.

Theme: Being a "driver" can have very different meanings for people. We are finding that our definition of driving may not match our respondents' definitions. Some study participants say they do not drive but eventually reveal that they occasionally drive to the store or to the post office. Other participants have described themselves as being a driver under different circumstances. …

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