Changes in driving patterns and worsening depressive symptoms among older adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2001 Nov;56(6):S343-51. doi: 10.1093/geronb/56.6.s343.


Objectives: This study examined whether changes in driving patterns-driving cessation and reduction-have negative consequences for the depressive symptoms of older Americans and whether these consequences are mitigated for people with a spouse who drives.

Methods: The project used data from 3 waves of the Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) study. Depressive symptoms were assessed with an abbreviated Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression scale. Using 2 models, the project examined how driving cessation and reduction that occurred between Waves 1 and 2 contributed to increases in depressive symptoms between Waves 2 and 3. The first model included the entire sample (N = 5,239), and the second model focused on drivers only (n = 3,543). A third model added interaction terms to the analysis to consider whether respondents who stopped driving but had a spouse who drove were less at risk of worsening depressive symptoms.

Results: Respondents who stopped driving had greater risk of worsening depressive symptoms. Drivers who restricted their driving distances before the study began also had greater risk of worsening depressive symptoms, but seemingly less so than the respondents who stopped driving altogether. For respondents who stopped driving, having a spouse available to drive them did not mitigate the risk of worsening symptoms.

Discussion: Changes in driving patterns can be deleterious for older people's depressive symptoms. Initiatives for assisting older people should focus on strategies that help them retain driving skills, that prepare them for the possible transition from driver to ex-driver, and that ensure that they have access to mental health therapies if driving changes are imminent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment*