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Giving up your driver's licence can lead to depression | study

Driving cessation in older adults appears to contribute to a variety of health problems, particularly depression.

Hang on to your licence if you want to stay happy – that's the message from new research linking the decision to stop driving with depression.

While age-related changes makes it sensible to consider changes to driving habits – perhaps avoiding peak hour, long distances and night driving – the decision to give up driving altogether can have a negative health impact.

The new American research looked at 16 previous studies to see how ceasing driving affected health. It found stopping driving was associated with declines in general health and physical, social and cognitive function, and with greater risks of admission to long-term care facilities and mortality.

The study concluded that driving cessation in older adults appears to contribute to a variety of health problems, particularly depression.

An analysis based on data from five studies examining the association between driving cessation and depression revealed driving cessation almost doubled the risk of depressive symptoms in older adults. The study authors suggested these adverse health consequences should be considered when considering the decision to cease driving.

Driving is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom and independence

It noted intervention programs ensuring mobility and social functions may be needed to mitigate the potential adverse effects of driving cessation on health and wellbeing in older adults.

Dr Guohua Li – senior author of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study – says the decision goes to the heart of independence and acknowledging the passage of time.

"... driving is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom and independence," Dr Li says.

The results come amid rising debate about the merits of older Australians driving.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner John Hartley recently triggered controversy when he suggested people over 70 should reconsider their driving abilities.

What's the law?

In South Australia, car drivers aged 75 and older who do not have a pre-existing medical condition complete a self-assessment form to determine their fitness to drive. All drivers, regardless of age, are required to report any medical condition that could affect their ability to drive safely.

Motorists of vehicles other than a car must have an annual medical assessment from the age of 70.

Do you think there should be more support for seniors who can no longer drive? Let us know in the comments below.