Life Without Wheels

‘Driving cessation’ takes a toll on seniors’ health and happiness.

Each year thousands of aging motorists, seniors whose declining skills have been deemed a risk to themselves and others, are asked to forever surrender their keys. In car-crazed America, this vast Republic of Drivers, few forms of disenfranchisement are more life altering, according to Angela Curl, an assistant professor of social work at MU.

Curl is the lead author of a new study that will help older adults, their family members and health-care providers better understand the effects of “driving cessation.” Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these are negative. “Often when individuals stop driving, their employment, volunteering and social interactions decline,” says Curl. “For seniors, engaging more in their communities is linked to maintained health, lower rates of depression and financial benefits, and this is why adults need to better prepare before they quit driving.”

For smoother transitions to non-driver status, the study recommended that older adults consider alternative transportation — and then practicing using it — early on. Seniors should also engage family members in conversations about their future car-free status. “Older adults have a tendency to think about driving cessation as something for other people, or they think of quitting driving as so far in the future, that they postpone planning. Finally, when seniors do start thinking about quitting driving, it’s too late, and they’re panicked and overwhelmed thinking about all the freedoms they will lose.”

Because many seniors lack appropriate driving alternatives, such as finding rides or availability of public transportation, it’s important that family members be proactive in their assistance. Offer to help, she says, instead of waiting to be asked. The study, coauthored with MU researchers James Stowe, Teresa Cooney and Christine Proulx, was published in the journal The Gerontologist last year.

Status Envy Art by Ross MacDonald

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