SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ --  New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that nearly 50 percent of older adults report using seven or more medications while remaining active drivers. An evaluation of the medications people take found that nearly one-in-five older drivers use medications that the American Geriatrics Society says should be avoided because they have very limited therapeutic benefit, pose excess harm, or both.

Currently, a record 42 million adults ages 65 and older are driving on America’s roads, and the number is expected to increase substantially over the next decade.

"Among the most common side effects of taking a new medication are dizziness and drowsiness. It's a big concern, especially for seniors who tend to take more medications than younger people," said Mit Patel, owner of Fanwood Pharmacy.

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Patel adds that different drugs impact people in varying ways.

"Everyone's chemistry is different. The side effects on a drug can impact some individuals more than others," Patel explained.

“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 Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA Northeast. “This new research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use a medication that can cause driving impairment.”

Some of these drugs are called potentially inappropriate medications, or PIMs. Most of these medications, including antihistamines, are known to cause impairing effects such as blurred vision, confusion, or fatigue, and can increase a driver’s risk for a crash by up to 300 percent.

The AAA Foundation along with researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego evaluated medication reports from nearly 3,000 older drivers participating in the AAA LongROAD study. Researchers found that two of the most commonly used medications by older drivers affect driving ability and increase crash risk. These medications include cardiovascular prescriptions and central nervous system agents (CNS) prescriptions that treat parts of the nervous system, such as the brain, and include pain medications (non-narcotics and narcotics), stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs.

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

“Taking multiple medications affect all of us, but older drivers can be particularly vulnerable. 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,” Sinclair said. “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. 

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

To learn more about their medications, drivers can use AAA’s Roadwise Rx. It’s a free, online tool to help drivers and their families understand common side effects of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. Visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com.