Older non-drivers lonelier than those who drive, according to study

Study on ageing finds people who travel independently have better mental health

Dr Orna Donoghue, TILDA project manager and lead author on the paper, said driving allows a level of freedom and independence that is often ‘not available with public transport and therefore it is hugely important for social engagement, mental health and wellbeing’. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Dr Orna Donoghue, TILDA project manager and lead author on the paper, said driving allows a level of freedom and independence that is often ‘not available with public transport and therefore it is hugely important for social engagement, mental health and wellbeing’. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Older people who are able to travel independently have better mental health and greater social networks compared to those being driven by family or friends or taking taxis, according to new research.

The greatest benefits are experienced by those driving themselves, the report from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin says.

Cars were the most frequently used mode of transport (88 per cent) of adults aged 50 and over.

Almost three-quarters of participants drove themselves with 11 per cent relying on lifts from family, friends or taxis. More than 5 per cent relied on a partner or spouse for lifts.

Just 8.5 per cent of those aged 50 and over used public transport “most frequently”. However, this varied by location – in Dublin the figure rose to 23 per cent versus 1.9 per cent in some rural areas.

The research also found driving decreases with increasing age, but that this is more evident in women. In the 50-64 years age bracket, 86 per cent of men drove compared to 72 per cent of women. In the 75 years plus category, 70 per cent of men drove compared to 30 per cent of women.

Adults with reduced levels of driving, and particularly non-drivers or those who have stopped driving, reported higher depressive symptoms and loneliness, lower quality of life, fewer social networks and lower social participation compared to current drivers.

Men who stopped driving and men who regularly travel by public transport reported higher levels of loneliness than women.

Independence

Dr Orna Donoghue, TILDA project manager and lead author on the paper, said driving allows a level of freedom and independence that is often “not available with public transport and therefore it is hugely important for social engagement, mental health and wellbeing”.

“Many people drive less frequently or stop driving as they get older, and this can be a huge upheaval especially if this change is not made by choice. Early planning and the availability of suitable alternative means of transport are vital to facilitate this transition from driving to not driving,” she said.

“Family and friends play a hugely important role in providing transport for older adults, allowing them to complete essential daily activities and to maintain their social networks. However, some older adults are reluctant to ask others for lifts so they prioritise what they see as the ‘essential’ trips rather than the discretionary or social trips, which are also very important for mental health and wellbeing.”

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator of TILDA said the challenges of improved transport networks and availability of local amenities and services that meet the specific needs of older adults needs to be addressed.