A study found that nearly 20 percent of older drivers are using medications that the American Geriatrics Society says should be avoided because they have very limited therapeutic benefit, pose excess harm, or both. Nearly 50 percent of older respondent’s report using seven or more medications while remaining active drivers, according to research findings released last month by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
This problem can only increase with the graying of the nation’s population. Currently, 42 million adults age 65 and older are driving on America’s roads and this number is expected to skyrocket over the next decade, which would this demographic group the largest driving population.
Multiple Drug Use Can Cause Driving Impairments
“There is a growing population of older drivers who use multiple medications and likely do not realize the impact these prescriptions may have on their driving,” said Lloyd Albert, AAA Northeast Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs in a statement released on November 28, 2018. “This new research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use an inappropriate medication that can cause driving impairment,” says Albert.
Some of these drugs are called potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs). Most of these medications, such as benzodiazepines and first-generation antihistamines, are known to cause driving impairments (such as blurred vision, confusion, fatigue or incoordination), and can increase the older driver’s risk for a crash by up to 300 percent.
The AAA Foundation working with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego evaluated medication reports from nearly 3,000 older drivers participating in the AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study. Researchers found many commonly used by older drivers affect their driving ability and increase crash risk.
The AAA LongROAD study is one of the largest and most comprehensive senior driver databases available on senior drivers incorporating 2,990 participants being followed for five years. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.
Here is a sampling: Cardiovascular prescriptions used to treat treating heart and blood vessel conditions (73 percent); Central nervous system agents (CNS) prescriptions prescribed to treat parts of the nervous system, such as the brain, including pain medications (non-narcotics and narcotics), stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs (70 percent).
Previous research study findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that fewer than 18 percent of older drivers report ever receive a warning from their physician about how their prescriptions impact their driving safety on the road. Additional research data from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists found that 34 percent of older adults are prescribed medications by more than one doctor, reducing opportunities to check how the new prescription may interact with other medications being used.
Discuss Medication Use with Health Care Providers
“Taking multiple medications affect all of us, but older drivers can be particularly vulnerable. Ask your doctor and pharmacist as many questions as necessary to ensure you understand why you need the medications prescribed to you, and how they can affect your driving,” adds AAA’s Albert. “Don’t be afraid to question healthcare providers. It’s their job to help you. And the answers may just save your life,” he said.
AAA calls on older drivers and their families to urges older adults and their families to be knowledgeable about what types of medications prescribed to them and potential side-effects that may impair their driving.
When visiting your physician, older drivers should write down any vitamins, supplements and prescribed or over-the-counter medications, to share at the medical appointment. By sharing the list of medications with the health care provider, you can discuss any potential side effects or drug interactions that can impact your driving abilities. Finally, discuss drug alternatives at your medical appointments. Crash risks can often be reduced by taking alternative medications, changing the doses or the time taking the mediation to ensure safe driving.
To learn more about their medications, Older drivers and their families can learn more about their medications by going on-line to AAA’s website, Roadwise Rx. The free online tool can increase one’s understanding of common side effects of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. It also flags interactions between these medications that can impact driving safety.
Print the free list and discuss with your physician or pharmacist to learn how to reduce your crash risk. Older drivers seeking additional ways to stay independent by driving or looking to drive less often due to their medications can find resources for alternative transportation at SeniorDrivingAAA.com.