Health Declines for Seniors who Stop Driving – Columbia University

As a senior citizen (I just celebrated my 78th birthday) working on his physical and mental health, I was surprised to learn of this correlation between driving and health. As I have written time and again use it or lose it is the law of the body. Disrespect that law at your peril.

Columbia University reports, “For older adults, driving a car is an important aspect of having control over one’s life. While 81 percent of the 29.5 million U.S. adults aged 65 and over continue to hold a license and get behind the wheel, age-related declines in cognition and physical function make driving more difficult, and many seniors reduce or eventually stop driving altogether. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health 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, driving cessation nearly doubled the risk of depressive symptoms, while also contributing to diminished cognitive abilities and physical functioning. Findings are published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


“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,” said Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, Mailman School professor of Epidemiology, the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, and senior author. “Unfortunately, it is almost inevitable to face the decision to stop driving during the process of aging as cognitive and physical functions continue to decline.”

Dr. Li and a team of researchers reviewed and analyzed quantitative health-related data for drivers aged 55 and older from 16 studies that met eligibility criteria and compared results with data from current drivers. The study updates and expands on earlier findings with more than 10 additional years of empirical research.

“Data showed that older adults experienced faster declines in cognitive function and physical health after stopping driving. Driving cessation was also associated with a 51-percent reduction in the size of social networks of friends and relatives–something the researchers say can constrain the social lives of seniors and their ability to engage with others. Decline in social health after driving cessation appeared greater in women than in men.”

“Former drivers were also nearly five times as likely as current drivers to be admitted to a nursing home, assisted living community, or retirement home, after adjusting for marital status or co-residence.

“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, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School and co-author. “When time comes to stop driving, it is important to make personalized plans to maintain mobility and social functions.”

The researchers note that merely making alternative transportation available to older adults does not necessarily offset the adverse health effects of driving cessation. “What we need most of all are effective programs that can ensure and prolong an older adult’s mobility, physical, and social functioning,” said Li.”

I would like to point out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) for lots more info on keeping your body and mind functioning well into your senior years.



Filed under aging, aging brain

6 responses to “Health Declines for Seniors who Stop Driving – Columbia University

  1. eths

    I’m 81 and still driving a lot. This article makes me think about the future and how to plan for non-driving days. Thanks!


    • Way to go! Very happy to hear of your success in aging! I know what you mean about thinking of the future. I have recently been thinking about replacing my car – a 2012 MINI Countryman. I wondered if I might be thinking about buying the last car I will ever own.


  2. Tony, I have to interject a little reality here, to offer a different perspective. I took my dad’s car away from him. I took his license. He was going to kill someone. He did die of dementia (not organ failure or pneumonia as is often the case)…

    While I support seniors driving when they can do so properly, I find that comic strip repugnant. If you can’t drive a car properly, you do not belong in a car, period. Ride a bike instead… at least this way, a senior won’t take out a young life for his or her need to get about. I realize that this can be a very heated issue but we all have a responsibility to keep the roads safe. No young parent or child should have to die so a senior can drive. There is a time when it’s time to restrict the driving and that must be done by the family to protect everyone else.


    • Jim – I agree completely that no one should be driving a car if incapable, whether they are 81 or 18 years old. My point was that we should all do everything possible to keep ourselves together – body and mind – as long as possible. Sorry if the cartoon offended you. It was my attempt to lighten the mood. That’s my sense of humor.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No harm; no foul, Jim.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s