Volume 7 Issue 4
Driving Mobility Affects Seniors’ Social Lives, Overall Health
According to a recent study, elderly drivers who stop driving and have no transportation alternatives become less socially active and risk isolation. This can lead to a decline in both physical and mental health.
Teja Pristavec, a sociology researcher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, sought to determine the effect of driving mobility on the social participation of older Americans. Her results were published online in May 2016 in The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences (available here).
Pristavec defines driving mobility as a combination of being able to drive oneself and receiving rides. She looked at driving habits and social activities of more than 4,300 adults over age 65, using survey data collected in 2011 and 2013 by the National Health and Aging Trends Study (www.nhats.org).
Compared to seniors who had stopped driving, she found that frequent drivers are more than three times more likely to visit friends and family, and almost three times as likely to participate in social outings like going to the movies. They were also more than twice as likely to attend religious services or organized group activities. But when they lost the ability to drive and had no transportation alternatives, their participation in social activities declined to the same level as those who never drove at all. A decrease in driving frequency, from frequent driving to occasional driving to not driving, lowers social participation.
Benefits of Social Participation for Seniors
Fewer Older Drivers
Physical and mental decline in later years eventually lead to a decision to reduce and cease driving. In the U.S., over 600,000 older individuals stop driving every year and must rely on other transportation.
Limited Driving Leads to Cessation
Some need a little help in making the decision to stop driving, and family members can watch for signs. For example, the driver may start making all right turns in order to avoid turning left at an intersection, or insist on having a navigator so he or she can concentrate solely on driving. A driver who becomes disoriented or has trouble following directions may also need to be discouraged from driving. At some point, it becomes a safety issue—both for the senior and for the public at large.
Social Activities Become Limited
In short, even if they don’t drive, seniors will try to find ways to continue participating in activities they value and cut back on those they deem less important. Social activities may just become too difficult and too expensive, and therefore less enjoyable.
For many seniors, religious services remain a high priority in their lives. Research has shown that religious involvement remains stable until the end of life, and there are known health and well-being benefits of religious participation. Pristovec found that those with higher self-driving mobility (including occasional drivers) are more likely to attend religious services than those who ceased driving and those with lower self-driving mobility. For those non-driving seniors who value religious services, efforts should be made to find rides so they can continue participating
Receiving Rides Can Help Prolong Social Participation
Unfortunately, many older individuals do not have children living nearby, and a smaller social network may mean fewer people are willing or able to provide rides. Family and friends may also be reluctant to assist due to limited time, money, and competing work or other family obligations.
Further, seniors are often hesitant to ask for rides because they fear being a burden to others. When they do ask for help, they tend to request rides for basic needs, like doctor visits and grocery shopping, not for social activities.
However, public and community transportation are often unsuitable for older individuals due to limited schedules during non-peak times, limited service to nonwork destinations, poor accessibility, low availability, inadequately trained drivers and limited personal assistance. Additionally, many seniors and their families are simply not aware these options exist.
Senior Living Centers
We specialize in assisting with legal issues that affect seniors and their loved ones. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
About The National Health and Aging Trends Study
Starting in 2011, NHATS has been gathering information on a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older. In-person interviews collect detailed information on activities of daily life, living arrangements, economic status and well-being, aspects of early life, and quality of life. Among the specific content areas included are: the general and technological environment of the home, health conditions, work status and participation in valued activities, mobility and use of assistive devices, cognitive functioning, and help provided with daily activities (self-care, household, and medical).
Study participants are re-interviewed every year in order to compile a record of change over time. The content and questions included in NHATS were developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of demography, geriatric medicine, epidemiology, health services research, economics, and gerontology.
As the population ages, NHATS will provide the basis for understanding trends in late-life functioning, how these differ for various population subgroups, and the economic and social consequences of aging and disability for individuals, families, and society.
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