Background: Cataract is a leading cause of vision impairment in older adults, affecting almost half of those over age 75 years. Driving is a highly visual task and, as with other age groups, older adults rely on the personal automobile for travel. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of cataract in driving.
Methods: Older adults (aged 55-85 years) with cataract (n = 279) and those without cataract (n = 105) who were legally licensed to drive were recruited from eye clinics to participate in a driving habits interview to assess driving status, exposure, difficulty, and "space" (the distance of driving excursions from home base). Crash data over the prior 5 years were procured from state records. Visual functional tests documented the severity of vision impairment.
Results: Compared to those without cataract, older drivers with cataract were approximately two times more likely to report reductions in days driven and number of destinations per week, driving slower than the general traffic flow, and preferring someone else to drive. Those with cataract were five times more likely to have received advice about limiting their driving. Those with cataract were four times more likely to report difficulty with challenging driving situations, and those reporting driving difficulty were two times more likely to reduce their driving exposure. Drivers with cataract were 2.5 times more likely to have a history of at-fault crash involvement in the prior 5 years (adjusted for miles driven/week and days driven/week). These associations remained even after adjustments for the confounding effects of advanced age, impaired general health, mental status deficit, or depression.
Conclusions: Older drivers with cataract experience a restriction in their driving mobility and a decrease in their safety on the road. These findings serve as a baseline for our ongoing study evaluating whether improvements in vision following cataract surgery expand driving mobility and improve driver safety.