As people age, they have more health risks and concerns than before. In fact, one in three elderly adults has a serious stairway fall every year. But a new AAA study found that senior citizens could be putting themselves and others at risk by driving while taking certain prescription medications.
According to the research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 20% of older Americans who are active drivers are taking seven or more medications. While there are drugs that are safe to use while driving, there are certain drugs that cause driving impairment and the combination of these drugs could increase the risk of causing a car accident by 300%.
Medications like anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and even vitamins or herbal supplements can all cause side effects that could impact someone’s ability to drive. These medications can have side effects like confusion, blurred vision, incoordination, and fatigue. It’s even more dangerous when several of these medications are taken together.
Dr. Luke Probst, Executive Director of Pharmacy Services at Upstate University Pharmacy, explained, “If you go to multiple prescribers and one doesn’t know what the other is prescribing, that’s a concern… Or if you go to multiple pharmacies if either or any of those pharmacies don’t have a full medication list of what you’re taking from all possible sources. That’s certainly, pardon the pun, a prescription for misadventure.”
The study looked at medication reports from 3,000 older drivers who were participating in the AAA LongROAD study. The AAA Foundation worked with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego to evaluate the reports.
The two types of medications that were most used by older drivers both affect driving ability, and therefore, increase the risk of crashing. The medications were cardiovascular prescriptions, which 73% of participants were taking, and central nervous system prescriptions, which 70% of participants were taking.
AAA data shows that during the first week of taking a medication, drivers are ten times more likely to be involved in a car accident. This increased risk is the same for those older adults who take seven or more medications.
Previous data collected from AAA found that 18% of older drivers never received a warning from their doctor about possible side effects from their medications regarding driving. So not only are there about 7,000 deaths each year due to medication errors in general, but some people aren’t even aware of the possible side effects of the medications they’re taking.
Today’s vehicles allow people to get to work, school, and any other places they need to go. They can even help transport heavy items, with pickup trucks being able to haul over 6,500 pounds of cargo. But driving behind the wheel while impaired, whether it’s from drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications, can ultimately increase the rate of vehicle accidents. This is why older adults and their families need to fully understand the possible effects of any medications they’re taking.
AAA provides an online tool called RoadWise RX that allows people to enter their medications and see the possible side effects and interactions. All drivers are encouraged to use this tool or reach out to their doctor with any questions or concerns.