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Sunday 18 August 2019

Older people who drive have 'better mental health, higher levels of social participation' - study

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Allison Bray

Elderly people are happiest when they are in literally in the driver’s seat, a new study on ageing from Trinity College reveals.

According to the latest research from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), older adults prefer to drive themselves or be driven by a partner or spouse rather than being chauffeured around by other family, friends or taxis.

The study, published in the journal ‘Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour,’ revealed older people who still drive have better mental health, have higher levels of social participation and social networks than those who have others do the driving for them.

The study revealed that men over the age of 50 are more likely to continue driving as they age compared with their female counterparts.

Some 70pc of men over the age of 75 continued to drive compared with just 30pc of women in the same age group.

However, researchers found that older people who never learned to drive or who had stopped driving reported higher depressive symptoms and loneliness as well as lower quality of life, fewer social networks and lower rates of social participation compared to their peers who still drive.

They also found that older men who had stopped driving and relied on public transportation reported higher levels of loneliness than women who had stopped driving.

Project Manager Orna Donoghue, said: “Driving allows a level of freedom and independence that is often not available with public transport and therefore it is hugely important for social engagement, mental health and wellbeing.

“Many people drive less frequently or stop driving as they get older, and this can be a huge upheaval especially if this change is not made by choice. Early planning and the availability of suitable alternative means of transport are vital to facilitate this transition from driving to not driving.”

Her colleague, Prof Rose Anne Kenny said: “Ideally, older adults would be supported to drive for as long as it is safe for them to do so and as long as they would like to do so.

“However, we also need to address the challenge of improved transport networks and availability of local amenities and services that meet the specific needs of older adults and allow them to maintain their independence and social activities. Retaining public transport links and/or identifying alternative means of providing transport is required, and this is especially pertinent given the current challenges to the provision of public transport.”

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