With 10 000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, the number of
elderly drivers on US roads is accelerating rapidly, researchers say.
But doctors and other health care providers often wait too
long before they talk to seniors about giving up driving, even though many elderly
patients are ready to discuss the issue much sooner, according to a new study.
"These conversations often don't happen until
clinicians see a 'red flag,' which could mean an accident or some physical
problem that makes driving more difficult for the elderly," study lead
author Dr Marian Betz, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said
in a university news release. "But what's interesting is that most elderly
drivers we spoke with said they were open to having earlier discussions."
The study involved focus groups and interviews with 33
drivers older than 65 and eight health care providers, including doctors,
nurses and physician assistants. Health care providers often raised the subject
of driving before elderly patients did, but tended to wait for problems to
arise before doing so. Health care providers also said these conversations were
In general, elderly drivers said they were open to these
discussions and generally regarded their health care providers as "fair
minded." Most of them, however, said they didn't believe their health care
providers were aware of their driving ability or status, according to the
study, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
"Driving is linked to independence, and asking for
someone's keys is very emotional," said Betz, who noted that previous
studies "have shown that most people outlive their ability to drive safely
by more than six years."
Health care providers should begin having driving-related
conversations with elderly patients when they are about 65 years old, she said.
This gives them years to think about it before having to make a decision about
giving up driving.
"A primary theme that emerged from this study was the
overall importance of improved communication about driving safety," the
researchers said. Clinicians and drivers supported the idea of regular
questioning about driving as a way to make it an easier topic, they said.
"It's not just about taking the keys, it's about making
plans," Betz said. "Drivers in our studies reported needing help in
preparing for that transition, including learning about transportation
The US National Institute on Aging has more about older