Use of Multiple Medications May Increase Risk of Crashes in Elderly Drivers

According to a 2006 report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, elderly drivers who take multiple medications, including over-the-counter products, may increase their risks for being involved in a motor vehicle accident. The study, titled “Literature Review of Polypharmacy and Older Drivers: Identifying Strategies to Study Drug Usage and Driving Function Among Older Drivers,” also pointed out that mixing medications with alcohol can be especially dangerous for older drivers.

pills4.jpgThe study revealed that 90 percent of the U.S. population ages 65 and over who are not in an institution take at least one medication per week. Forty percent of this population take at least five or more medications per week, and 12 percent used 10 or more medications per week. The report also revealed that 40 percent of the drugs taken by this population were over-the-counter products, such as herbal remedies, antacids or aspirin. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of this elderly population do not tell their doctors about their use of over-the-counter products. Moreover, 17 percent of those who took over-the-counter drugs also drank alcohol and took prescription medications.

The NHTSA study pointed out that taking multiple medications increases an elderly person’s risk of developing certain problems. First, the consumption of three or more drugs per day increases the risk of functional decline in the elderly by 60 percent. In addition, taking multiple medications can lead to cognitive disorders, in appropriate prescriptions, falls, hip fractures, depression and incontinence. Finally, taking multiple medications increases the risk of an elderly driving being involved in a crash, especially if he or she is taking driving-impairing medications such as benzodiazepines and opioids.

Mixing medications, alcohol and driving can be dangerous. Alcohol alone can easily impair an elderly person’s driving ability. The report states, “Because of age-related physiological changes, declining health and functional status, and medication use, older adults can incur problems at low levels of alcohol consumption.” As a result, elderly people should never drive when drinking and taking several medications.

Because medications, especially in multiple combinations, can interact to impair a driver’s ability, elderly people should talk to their doctor or pharmacist about any prescriptions and over-the counter products he or she is taking. Such medical professionals will advise elderly patients of any potential and adverse side effect that may impair driving.

The full NHTSA report can be accessed here.

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