Migraines affect more than 7 percent of adults over the age of sixty. If you’re a senior migraine sufferer and have been dealing with this condition for years, you probably know what to expect when a headache comes on. But for seniors newly-diagnosed with the disorder, there may be a problem down the road.
Older adults who have been recently diagnosed with migraines are three times as likely to be involved in a car crash, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found.
The results are especially significant because “The U.S. population is aging, which means increasing numbers of older adult drivers could see their driving abilities affected by migraine symptoms previously not experienced,” Carolyn Di Giuseppi, the lead author of the study and a professor with the Colorado School of Public Health, explained in a press release.
Migraines are often accompanied by a variety of symptoms, all of which can interfere with driving:
Older adults who are recently diagnosed with migraines are three times as likely to be involved in a car crash.
- Decreased concentration
- Debilitating pain
- Loss of balance
- Poor muscle coordination
- Ringing in the ears
The Colorado researchers' longitudinal study took place in five sites across the U.S. over five years. It included nearly 2,600 active drivers between the ages of 65 and 79. The participants were categorized as 1) having previously been diagnosed with migraine symptoms, 2) no previous diagnosis but experienced symptoms during the study’s time frame, 3) never experienced migraines.
The findings were significant: Those with a previous migraine diagnosis did not have a higher likelihood of having crashes, while those with new onset migraines were three times as likely to experience a crash within one year of their diagnosis.
It’s interesting to note that seniors with migraines who were previously diagnosed had more hard-braking events — indicating a last-minute awareness of the risk of an accident — compared with adults who had never had a migraine.
Were medications behind the crash connection for new migraine sufferers? The researchers explored this potential link and found no relationship between crashes and medications. That said, statistically few of the participants were prescribed what’s considered strong migraine drugs.
“These results have potential implications for the safety of older patients that should be addressed,” says DiGuiseppi. “Patients with a new migraine diagnosis would benefit from talking with their clinicians about driving safety, including being extra careful about other risks, such as distracted driving, alcohol, pain medication and other factors that affect driving.”
At present there are no laws that might help keep seniors with newly-diagnosed migraines off the road. While every U.S. state has legal guidelines about the minimum age in which a person can drive or rent a motor vehicle, as of 2023, not a single state has set a legal maximum age at which a person can drive.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.