I shudder to think how long my grandmother tooled around the country roads in her 1963 Cutlass Supreme. She finally gave up her keys (with my mother's strong urging) after noting that the road and approaching cars sometimes appeared to rise in the air. Up until then, none of us had realized just how bad her vision had become, and everyone (no doubt her neighbors and their livestock included) was relieved when she finally moved to the passenger seat.While my grandmother's visual lapses were a clear sign not to drive, many older Americans get behind the wheel each day unaware that they also have extra reason to be cautious. According to a new study*, many adults over 55 don't know that the medications they take have the potential to impair their driving ability
The researchers surveyed 630 drivers, aged 56 to 93, about their medications, medical conditions and driving habits. Although 3 out of 4 reported taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs that can cause drowsiness, dizziness, blurry vision, or other side effects that might affect their driving, only 27 percent were aware of these potential side effects, and only 17 percent had been warned about them by a doctor, pharmacist, or other health professional. Even more startling: The older people were, the more of these medications they took—and the less likely they were to know about these risks.
What you need to know. This study highlights a serious gap in the often-limited drug guidance provided to patients. Health care professionals need to take a more active role in educating patients about side effects that may impair their driving, the researchers say. If people are aware of these risks, they can take steps to modify their behavior, such as giving the keys to someone else, not driving at night, or just being extra vigilant for signs of side effects.But the onus isn't just on health care professionals. Ultimately, patients need to be in the driver's seat, so to speak, to make sure they fully understand how to take their medications and what side effects to watch for, both on the road and off. If your doctor or pharmacist isn't providing this information, be sure to ask for it.
—Sophie Ramsey, patient editor, BMJ Group
ConsumerReportsHealth.org has partnered with The BMJ Group (British Medical Journal) to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.
Research shows older drivers who have had surgery to take out their cataracts are half as likely to be involved in a car crash. Get more information on cataracts and see our comparison of treatments (subscribers only). And read more on drug safety, find out when it's time to take the keys from elderly drivers.