Nearly 50 percent of older adults report using seven or more medications while remaining active drivers, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

A study of the medications taken by older drivers found that 20 percent are using medications that should be avoided because they have limited therapeutic benefit, pose excess harm, or both. Most of these “potentially inappropriate medications”, or “PIMs”, such as benzodiazepines and first-generation antihistamines, are known to cause impairing effects such as blurred vision, confusion, fatigue or incoordination. They can also increase a driver’s risk for a crash by up to 300 percent.

“There is a growing population of older drivers who use multiple medications and likely do not realize the impact these prescriptions may have on their driving,” said Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “This new research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use an inappropriate medication that can potentially cause driving impairment.”

Along with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego, the AAA Foundation evaluated medication reports from nearly 3,000 older drivers participating in the AAA LongROAD study. Researchers found that the most commonly reported medications used by older drivers can affect driving ability and may increase crash risk. These medications include:

  • Select cardiovascular prescriptions: Treating heart and blood vessel conditions (73 percent)
  • Select central nervous system agents (CNS) prescriptions: Treating parts of the nervous system, such as the brain, and includes pain medications (non-narcotics and narcotics), stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs (70 percent).

Previous AAA Foundation research found that fewer than 18 percent of older drivers report ever receiving a warning from their health care provider about how their medications impact their safety on the road. And, according to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, 34 percent of older adults are prescribed medications by more than one doctor, possibly bypassing opportunities to check how a new prescription may interact with other medications being used.

“Ask your doctor and pharmacist as many questions as necessary to ensure you understand why you need the medications prescribed to you, and how they can affect your driving, especially if taking multiple medications,” said Jake Nelson, AAA Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. “Don’t be afraid to question healthcare providers.  It’s their job to help you. And the answers may just save your life.”

AAA urges older adults and their families to be vigilant in understanding the types of medications prescribed to them and any potential side effects. The AAA’s tips:

  • Write down any vitamins, supplements and prescribed or over-the-counter medications you take, and bring that list with you to every medical appointment.
  • Share that list with your healthcare providers at each appointment, and ask about potential side effects or interactions that could affect your driving.
  • Risks can often be reduced by taking alternative medications, changing the doses or the timing of the doses to avoid conflicts with safe driving.