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Giving Up the Keys Equals Increased Risk of Health Problems in Older Adults

AAA Foundation study shows increased risk of depression and entry into long-term care facilities among former older drivers


Older adults who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel, according to a new report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University.  The study examined older adults who have permanently given up driving and the impact it has on their health and mental well-being. The importance of understanding the effects this lifestyle change has on older adults is essential, as the number of drivers aged 65 and older continues to increase in the United States with nearly 81 percent of the 39.5 million seniors in this age group still behind the wheel.  

“This comprehensive review of research confirmed the consequences of driving cessation in older adults,” Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The decision to stop driving, whether voluntary or involuntary, appears to contribute to a variety of health problems for seniors, particularly depression as social circles are greatly reduced.”

The AAA Foundation’s report on Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adults examined declines in general health and physical, social, and cognitive functions in former drivers. With the cessation of driving, the study found:

  • Diminished productivity and low participation in daily life activities outside of the home;
  • Risk of depression nearly doubled;
  • 51 percent reduction in the size of social networks over a 13-year period;
  • Accelerated decline in cognitive ability over a 10-year period; and former drivers were
  • Five times as likely to be admitted to a long term care facility.

The latest report in the AAA Foundation’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project, Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adults consisted of a systemic literature review of previously published studies pertinent to the health consequences of driving cessation. Sixteen studies met the criteria for inclusion. The full report can be viewed here.  

“Maintaining independence by continuing to drive safely is important to overall health and well-being. When the decision is made to relinquish the keys, it is vital to mitigate the potential negative effects through participation in programs that allow seniors to remain mobile and socially connected,” said Pat Moody Manager of Public Affairs for AAA Northern New England.

AAA is dedicated to keeping motorists driving as long as safely possible and has many tools and tips on how to extend your safe driving career. It is important to plan for driving retirement to mitigate sudden lifestyle changes when you can no longer drive.

If appropriately timed, cessation of driving delivers important safety benefits to older adults and those who share the road with them.  Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to combat the adverse health effects that drivers can follow:

  1. Stay on top of your fitness to drive.  AAA’s Roadwise Review is a free and easy self-assessment program that is proven to flag potential physical and mental health barriers to continued safe driving.  Discuss your results with your healthcare provider to address any issues and extend your safe driving years, or plan for a transition from driver to passenger if necessary.  Taking control of your mobility can lead to more successful transitioning if and when the time comes. 
  2. Plan early and practice getting around without driving. Combat a perceived loss of control by folding transportation into your retirement plans.  Where you live might change if you consider the possibility of not being able to drive.  Access to public transit, paratransit, volunteer driver programs and friends and family who can drive you is important. Also, practice utilizing these alternatives to driving to reach all of the destinations important to you.  Building comfort and confidence in using these services before you must rely on them can dramatically change your view of stopping driving.
  3. Use it or lose it. Whether it’s solving crossword puzzles, Sudoku or getting lost in your favorite book, exercising your brain can extend your years behind the wheel and help to preserve your heath even after you retire from driving.  Also consider programs like DriveSharp, which have been shown to reduce crash risk by up to 50-percent!
  4. No keys, no problem.  If you have already retired from driving or know you must do so soon, commit to staying active and connected to friends, family and community.  Combine trips to address daily responsibilities like shopping for groceries or seeing your doctor, with social activities like seeing friends or volunteering in the community.  Doing so will keep you active, engaged and socially connected, which research has shown will help combat adverse health effects like social isolation, depression and cognitive decline.

Learn more about these and many other resources at

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides 54 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services.  Operating 19 offices throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, AAA Northern New England is a not-for-profit, fully tax-paying corporation and a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.  Today, AAA members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing and buying programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip-planning services, and highway and transportation safety programs. Information about these products and services is available by visiting

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