The decision to stop driving is a difficult one for older drivers and their families. Unfortunately, in the U.S. people often outlive their ability to drive safely by up to 10 years.
Not much is known about how to actually help older persons make the decision to stop driving in a way that is sensitive to their sense of autonomy. An ongoing longitudinal study, known as AUTO — Advancing Understanding of Transportation Options — funded by the National Institutes of Health, is testing the usefulness of an online driving decision aid to help older drivers make this stressful and emotional decision.
The decision aid, called “Is It Time to Stop Driving?”, is designed to help older drivers get a clearer picture of their road-worthiness as drivers.
“There is no set age at which a person becomes unsafe driving,” Emmy Betz, lead author of the study and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, told TheDoctor. Most people will eventually develop conditions, such as vision problems, that make them not as safe on the road as they used to be, she added.
“With the aging of the population, the issue is not going away, so we should keep trying to understand how we can support older adults while also preventing injury.”
Data from over 300 drivers 70 years old or older who had no cognitive impairments, but did have conditions that might impair their driving ability, were used in the study. The researchers compared the usefulness of the decision aid to the National Institute on Aging Older Drivers website, which served as the control. Participants were randomly assigned to either group.
Seniors who were in the decision aid group had more confidence in their decision about whether to continue driving compared to the control group. They also displayed more knowledge about driving decisions. The decision aid was widely accepted by AUTO participants: almost 90 percent of those who used it said they would recommend it to others.
Seniors in the study were paired with someone they trust, such as an adult child, who would be involved in their decision to stop driving. The researchers want to better understand the relationship between the older drivers and their study partners, and the role trusted individuals play in the decision-making process. “When we think about how someone depends on others when they transition from driving, and vice versa, it is important to think about family and their involvement,” Betz said.
“With the aging of the population, the issue [of ensuring seniors are safe behind the wheel] is not going away, so we should keep trying to understand how we can support older adults while also preventing injury,” said Betz. A two-year follow-up period will allow researchers to determine if the decision aid has an effect on whether or not people continue to drive, she added.
The researchers also want to see how the decision aid could be used by healthcare providers or people on their own.
The paper is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.