Warning to the Elderly: Don’t Take Psychoactive Medications and Drive

There have been a lot of researches that show that older drivers have the second highest risk for motor vehicle collisions of any age group, after adolescents. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, older adults are nine times more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents than drivers aged 25 to 69. In 2000, older adults made up 9% of the resident population, but accounted for 13% of all traffic fatalities and 17% of all pedestrian fatalities. Accidents involving older drivers can cause injury to both the older driver and other drivers and pedestrians.

Generally. most senior drivers are good, safe drivers. They know their limitations and do their best to follow the rules of the road. But even the best and the safest drivers can have accidents when there are factors that impair their judgment or senses. Impaired vision, poor hearing and flexibility, limited range of motion, reduced reaction time, and medications are some of the factors which can lead to fatal car accidents.

Many elderly drivers take several medications to treat certain medical conditions, including those that are specifically for psychiatric care. Those medications may interact with each other causing drowsiness or confusion. There are a lot of older people, especially those who live alone, who use psychoactive medications with or without the doctor’s prescription. Psychoactive medications may place older drivers at increased risk for potentially fatal vehicular accidents.

Psychoactive medications are drugs that, when prescribed and used prudently, can reduce or eliminate the suffering caused by psychological conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, psychosis, and bipolar affective disorder.

A research was conducted on a population-based matched case-control study of older drivers who were involved in injurious crashes from 1987 to 1988. The 234 cases and 447 controls were members of a large Seattle-based health maintenance organization. Use of antidepressants medications and opioid analgesics by older drivers was associated with increased risk for injurious motor vehicle collisions. Compared with non-users, current users of cyclic antidepressants had a 2.3% higher chances of encountering an accident, or what is termed as adjusted relative risk (RR). Opioid analgesic use was also associated with an elevated crash risk. No evidence was found of a dose-related effect with either class of the drug. Current use of benzodiazepines or sedating antihistamines had little association with increased risk for injurious collisions.

Moreover, benzodiazepines are among the psychoactive medications that are widely prescribed for people over the age of 65 years. Their use has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes including cognitive impairment, an increased risk of falls and hip fractures, especially in people with coexisting medical illness, and car accidents.

The risks are greater with long-acting agents and during the first few weeks after drug initiation. In spite of the risks, there is evidence that benzodiazepines may be overprescribed to elderly people. Among the problems identified are the overprescription of long-acting benzodiazepines, high rates of benzodiazepine use in combination with other psychoactive drugs and the prescribing of benzodiazepines for long-term use.

While the automobile is a powerful tool for independence and mobility, it is also potentially dangerous. As we grow old, our ability to drive safely may be limited by many factors. It’s important to recognize these risk factors and minimize them if possible before car accident occurs. More importantly, all drivers should be aware of safe driving habits, regardless of age.

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