Greenwood: Driving key for seniors’ health

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Is driving a key component to good mental and physical health?

A senior citizen driving training course at the Madison Heights senior center.  Many insurance companies will offer discounts to seniors who successfully complete classes that will update their driving skills.

It probably is, according to an eye-opening study I just received from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University. The study showed that permanently giving up driving can have a serious impact on older adults’ health and mental well being.

The bottom line shows that older adults who stopped driving are twice as likely to suffer from depression and are nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility compared with seniors who remain behind the wheel.

This is not good news for us baby boomers as the number of drivers 65 and older continues to grow. According to AAA nearly 81 percent of the nearly 40 million seniors in the U.S. still drive.

“The decision to stop driving, whether voluntary or involuntary, appears to contribute to a variety of health problems for seniors, particularly depression as social circles are greatly reduced,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

It makes sense that seniors would feel depressed if, after a lifetime of driving, they were no longer able to motor over to visit friends and family, visit restaurants, go on a driving vacation or make the journey to the doctor, market or movies.

According to the study, the cessation of driving for seniors can result in:

■ Lessened productivity and lower participation in daily activities outside the home.

■ The risk of depression is nearly doubled.

■ There is a 51 percent reduction in the size of a senior’s social network over a 13-year period.

■ Accelerated decline in mental ability over a 10-year period.

■ Seniors who stop driving are five times as likely to be admitted to a long term care facility.

No one is advocating that all seniors should continue to drive until their clutches give out.

The truth of the matter is that over time eyesight and hearing can diminish, reflexes slow, it’s easier to be distracted plus there can be side effects from medications.

That’s when friends and family have to show their love and concern by stepping in and stepping up by taking away the keys.

But until then there are actions and programs to improve a senior’s skills, including driving classes, online programs and videos. Additionally many insurance companies will offer discounts to seniors who successfully complete classes that will update their driving skills.

I-75: In Detroit SB will have the right lane closed from Piquette to Ferry streets from 9 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. Monday for bridge work.

I-75: In Detroit NB and SB will have lane closures from 7 p.m. tonight until 7 p.m. Sunday between the Davison Freeway (M-8) and Fort for repairs.

I-75: In Madison Heights/Royal Oak NB and SB has one lane closed at 13 Mile with a traffic shift until August 31.

I-94: In Detroit WB will have intermittent right lane and ramp closures from Eight Mile to Conner from 5 a.m. Saturday until 9 p.m. Sunday for utility work.

I-94: In Detroit the EB ramp to NB and SB M-10 (Lodge Freeway) will be closed from 9 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. Monday for construction.

I-275: In Livonia NB and SB will have single left lane closures between Seven Mile and Eight Mile daily between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. until August 31.

M-10: In Detroit SB will have two lanes closed from Linwood to I-94 from 9 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday for road work. Exit ramps will be open by entrance ramps will be closed within the work zone.

M-29: In St. Clair the road is closed closed from Clinton Avenue to Brown Street until midnight Monday for a local event.

M-53 (Van Dyke): In Washington Township NB and SB has have single lane closures at 27 Mile until 9 a.m. Saturday for bridge work.

M-150: (Rochester Road): In Rochester Hills NB and SB will have the two left lanes closed nightly between M-59 and Avon from 9 p.m. tonight until 9 a.m. Sunday for road work.