Vision problems cause elderly to put down the keys

January 7, 2009

New research has indicated that a decrease in vision function is a key factor in older Americans recognizing when they can no longer drive safely and deciding that it is time to stay off the road.

Rockville, MD-New research has indicated that a decrease in vision function is a key factor in older Americans recognizing when they can no longer drive safely and deciding that it is time to stay off the road.

The study conducted by researchers affiliated with Johns Hopkins University looked at changes in vision, cognition, and the general health status of more than 1,200 licensed drivers aged 67 to 68 years in Salisbury, MD, a community with limited public transportation.

The results of the Salisbury Eye Evaluation Study found that after 1 year, 1.5% of the drivers had stopped driving, and another 3.4% had restricted their driving. The most common indicators of stopping or decreasing driving were slow visual scanning, psychomotor speed, and poor visuo-constructional skills, as well as reduced contrast sensitivity-skills necessary to help drivers be aware of and respond to other cars, road conditions, and road signs.

The study also found that women were four times more likely than men to stop or restrict their driving. Drivers who had higher depression scores on the initial test were more likely to have given up or restricted their driving after 1 year.

“Older drivers are the fastest growing sector of all licensed drivers in the United States,” noted researcher Lisa Keay, PhD. “The decision to stop or limit driving to one’s own neighborhood has major implications for personal independence-but it is an important way to maintain the safety of older drivers and those who share the road.

“As a society, we would like to think that when a driver recognizes that his or her functions related to vision or cognition are declining, they make that crucial decision,” Dr. Keay said. “My colleagues and I found it reassuring that in this group, that appeared to be the case.”

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