New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that increased fatigue and poor physical functioning are leading factors that can result in older adults limiting their driving. But weekly exercise and stretching can improve safe driving abilities and keep older adults on the road longer.
The AAA Foundation commissioned researchers at Columbia University to evaluate eight domains- depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbance, pain interference, physical functioning, pain intensity and participation in social activities – to determine how changes in physical, mental and social health affect driving mobility for older adults. The report found that fatigue and poor physical functioning are most common among older drivers who spend less time behind the wheel.
“Older adults who give up the keys are more likely to suffer from depression than those who remain behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It is important that we find ways to keep older drivers in good physical health in order to extend their mobility.”
The AAA research is important because the number of older drivers in the U.S. is growing each year. In fact, one in five adults in the U.S. will be 65 or older by the year 2030.
Research shows that daily exercise and stretching can help older drivers to improve overall body flexibility and move more freely to observe the road from all angles. Physical strength also helps drivers remain alert to potential hazards on the road and perform essential driving functions, such as:
- Looking to the side and rear
- Adjusting the safety belts
- Sitting for long periods of time
“We all experience some decline in physical fitness as we get older. But AAA research shows that moderate exercise of just a few minutes at a time can make a big difference in keeping seniors driving safely,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends older adults, who are physically able, get between 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week, or between 75 minutes to 2.5 hours of high-intensity physical activity. The exercises should include balance training as well as aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Older adults should consult their doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. They should also talk with a healthcare provider about ways to combat fatigue, and whether medications are playing a role in making them drowsy. Prioritizing getting at least seven hours of sleep each night can help older adults stay alert behind the wheel.