AAA: Some Medications Unsafe for Senior Drivers

One in five mature motorists takes potentially inappropriate medications

BOISE – (November 28, 2018) – According to AAA’s new research on aging drivers, one in five uses at least one potentially inappropriate medication (PIM) – a drug or compound that could be excessively harmful, ineffective, or both.

That’s a serious concern, AAA says, because the majority of medications on the PIM list can lead to impaired driving, with possible side-effects including blurred vision, confusion, fatigue, or incoordination. These can increase a driver’s crash risk by up to 300 percent, putting themselves and the people around them in danger.

According to the American Geriatrics Society’s 2015 Beers Criteria, potentially inappropriate medications include benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs), narcotic pain medications, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics (anti-depressants), and sleep medications.

“These medications pose excess harm or offer limited therapeutic benefit, so seniors and their doctors should reduce or eliminate these potentially inappropriate medications wherever possible,” says Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho. “The more medications a senior takes, the greater the chance that a PIM will be included.”

Relative to older drivers on four or fewer medications, patients on five to seven medications were more than twice as likely to be using PIMs, patients on eight to eleven medications were more than four times as likely to be using PIMs, and patients on twelve or more medications were eight times as likely to be using PIMs.

Based on AAA’s analysis of 3,000 study participants, nearly 50 percent of senior drivers use seven or more medications on a regular basis. AAA also applied criteria from the American Geriatrics Society to determine that nearly 20 percent use at least one potentially inappropriate medication.

“These medications may be necessary in some cases,” Conde said. “But as a general guideline, people should take the medications they need while periodically verifying that the amounts and combinations are appropriate for their health and driving safety.”

Another cause for concern is polypharmacy – patients may unintentionally take multiple medications that have the same effect, amplifying the results to unsafe levels.

“Some people see a number of physicians and specialists, so they may not know that they are taking a harmful mix of medications until they put the entire list together,” Conde said.

To help people understand the potential effects and driving risks caused by the medications they take, AAA has developed Roadwise RX. Motorists can anonymously input the list of drugs they use to see how they interact with each other.  For more information, go to roadwiserx.com.

A 2009 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that only 18 percent of drivers 55 and older had received a warning from a health care provider about the possible effect of medications on their ability to drive, and only a slightly higher number of the drivers who were taking five or more medications received such a warning. A 2002 study also found that the odds of a mature driver falling are six times higher if they’re taking ten or more medications.

“It comes down to effective communication – seniors need to share how medications are affecting them, and health professionals need to carefully outline the risks involved, particularly when it comes to patient well-being and safe driving,” Conde said. “These are important conversations that will save lives.”