A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that fall prevention in the elderly can also prevent car accidents.
The revelation was part of the Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) Study, which looked at trends in five sites nationally over the course of five years and with 3,000 participants over the age of 55 (with a mean age of at least 65).
This is an important study for a number of reasons. The first is that our population is aging, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that by 20150, the over-65 population will be nearly 84 million – more than double what it was in 2012. The second is that transportation within a community is considered an essential part of everyday living. In many communities, the only practical way to get around is to drive – especially in more rural areas. That means if we want to prioritize elder independence and quality of life and also improve safety on our roads, we must figure out what can be done to ensure older generations have the tools they need to keep driving safely.
The National Council on Aging reports that every 13 seconds, an elderly person is treated in an emergency department for a fall. One-third of Americans over the age of 65 fall every year. However, falls are not an inevitable result of aging, and there are a number of ways they can be prevented.
In terms of driving, falls can affect a driver’s ability in three ways:
- Limit functional mobility by causing physical injury and disability;
- Indirectly lead to lesser functional ability by physical/ cognitive deconditioning (i.e., the fear of falling causes person to reduce physical activity;
- Result in an increase risk of benzodiazepine medications, which are also associated with higher crash risk.
Regardless of whether falls have a direct or indirect effect on outcomes in driving, reducing falls may in fact be a way to help older adults retain their mobility in their communities.
In all of the existing research the foundation analyzed, there was evidence of an increased risk of car accidents associated with prior, self-reported falls.
To give a snapshot: One of those studies looked at self-reported “driving difficulty.” Study participants were asked whether they had trouble driving under certain conditions or while performing certain driving-related tasks (i.e., making left turns) or because of certain health-related conditions. What researchers found was that there was a significant increase in self-reported high-driving difficulty when the participant had a prior fall history.
Study authors are careful to say there could be some underlying factors that cause both falls and motor vehicle crashes – that one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Some examples that require exploration include:
- Neuromuscular function;
- Cognitive ability;
- Chronic health conditions.
Still, by addressing one problem, we may be able to address both. For example, cataract surgery was associated with a reduced risk of falls as well as a reduced risk of car accidents. So was regular fitness and routine cognitive exercises.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Associations Between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, March 2016, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
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Distracted Driving is Going to Cost Us All in 2016, March 22, 2016, Winston-Salem Injury Lawyer Blog