Are you 65 years old or older?
Is someone in your life over 65?
Are you or they taking any medications?
If you answered yes, then this article is for you. December 2-6, 2013 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week and it aims to promote understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation, helping ensure older adults remain active in the community. This is also a great time to review any medication being taken and find out what impact it may have on your driving skills.
Senior Drivers, Driving and Freedom
Aging—it is something that happens to us all; slowly, steadily, progressing every day of our lives. Many times you hear someone say how “being old” snuck up on him or her. Our minds see us in our youth; able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and with the ability to do anything we set our minds to. However, as we age, our bodies and our minds slow down, becoming less agile. This does not mean that we are homebound, never to go out and enjoy life; it means that it is a fact of life—if we’re living, we’re aging. It also means that when we get to the age of “senior driver” we need to understand our body’s limitations and determine what we can do to remain active.
In 2011, 5,401 people age 65 and older were killed in motor vehicle crashes, with 185,000 injuries. While this age group makes up 13% of the total population, it represented 17% of all traffic fatalities in 2011. This is not to say that older drivers are more dangerous when driving, but it is an indication that a crash can be deadlier for someone over 65 because of the body’s imperfect ability to heal itself at an older age.
Medication Can Impact Driving
As we age, we are likely to take medication for a variety of ailments. In a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey of people 55 years and older, 78% were using one or more forms of medication and 69% were using medications that could impair a person’s ability to drive.
Driving is a complicated skill that we at times take for granted. Medication in many cases can be critical for our health, but it may also affect our ability to drive. Drugged Driving is not limited to the use of illegal drugs–it can also happen with prescription and over-the counter medication.
In that same AAA survey, 18% of the people surveyed indicated that they had received a warning from a doctor or nurse about the medication they were using and how it could impact their driving abilities; only 28% even recognized it as a possibility. It is time to change that dynamic and raise the awareness of everyone that medication may lead to impaired driving.
What To Do?
What does that mean? First, make a list of the drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) that you are taking. Then, have a conversation with your doctor on any possible effects the medication, alone or in combination, can have. This conversation should also happen with your pharmacist. If you are taking any impairing drugs, it may be possible for the doctor to adjust the dosage, or the timing, or even change it to one that is less of an issue. But in no case should you stop taking medication that your doctor has prescribed.
Second, a useful tool that can help educate you on how your medications may affect your driving is AAA’s “Roadwise RX.” It is a free online tool where you list the medications you are using and then it provides you information on how that drug or drugs may impair you. It includes interactions between the medications.
Third, if the drugs you are taking do impact your ability to drive, see what can be done with the support of your family and friends. Don’t forget about shuttle buses or local service groups that offer transportation for senior citizens. But whatever you do, don’t take the risk of driving while impaired.
Finally, younger family members need to take the time to have a conversation with our parents or grandparents about their medication–what it is, how it is being taken, and making sure they have considered how it may or may not effect driving. It is time to make sure every senior driver is informed about this issue.
Aging does not mean we stop living. It means that we are living. One way to continue living is to take the medication prescribed for each of us, but also to understand how it may or may not affect us as we drive. Take the time and talk about it with your doctor, your pharmacist, learn the limitations that may occur, make appropriate accommodations, and then go out and continue living your life.
Have you ever had to have this conversation with your parents? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments below.
Useful Link: FDA Brochure: Driving When You Are Taking Medications.
 2009 Older Adults’ Knowledge about Medications That Can Impact Driving, August 209, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Washington DC.