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Older drivers who experience falls may be at a higher risk for car crashes

September 13, 2017

As we age, our ability to drive may help us live independently, shop for ourselves, and maintain social connections. Although car crash rates are low among older adults and are declining, older adults do still have higher rates of fatal crashes. Falls, which are a common and preventable cause of injury among older adults, may lower our ability to drive safely.

Experts believe that falls are related to driving in four ways:
  • They can cause physical injury that limits mobility (our ability to move) and interferes with driving performance.
  • Falling can increase the fear of falling, which leads to a reduction in physical activity . Reduced physical activity can weaken our physical strength, which also could reduce fitness for driving.
  • Falls can affect an older adult's mental well-being, making them more fearful and leading to changes in driving behaviors.
  • Falls and difficulty driving may be caused by common factors, such as vision problems.


A research team created a study to see whether falls were related to driving risks and behaviors among older adults. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

To test their theory that falls are related to car crashes, crash-related injuries, and changes in driving performance, the researchers reviewed 15 studies of driving behavior among older adults involving nearly 47,000 people.

The researchers learned that older adults who had fallen were 40 percent more likely to experience a car crash after their fall than older adults who had not fallen.

Based on estimates of car crashes involving older drivers and older adults who fall, falls -- or the things that cause falls and crashes -- accounted for more than 177,000 additional car crashes each year.

Researchers also learned that falls may be an independent factor impairing an older adult's ability to drive safely, suggesting that some motor vehicle crashes might be caused by the falls themselves - regardless of the driver's underlying health and functioning.

The researchers suggested that taking steps to reduce the conditions that contribute to both falls and car crashes could reduce the occurrence of both. Some strategies for doing so include:
  • Cataract surgery (a type of eye surgery that helps address cloudy vision)
  • Exercise to improve physical and mental well-being
  • Efforts to improve mental function


The researchers also suggested that for older adults who fall, post-fall rehabilitation might help improve functional ability and enable them to drive more safely.
-end-
This summary is from "Associations between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults: Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis". It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Kenneth A. Scott, PhD, MPH; Eli Rogers; Marian E. Betz, MD, MPH; Lilian Hoffecker, MS, PhD, MLS; Guohua Li, MD, DrPH; and Carolyn DiGuiseppi, MD, MPH, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has -- for 75 years -- worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

American Geriatrics Society

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