Tick Tock: Cardiovascular Health and Driving Behavior in Older Adults
by Danielle Waldron, Gerontology PhD student
While my primary research interests include health and social policy for persons aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I am widening my scope of study to other interesting areas in the field of gerontology.
This year I presented my research on elder driving and cardiovascular health at the Gerontology Society of America Conference (GSA) in New Orleans – my first GSA pressentation. After reading about driving accidents involving older adults and heart attacks in local newspapers, I decided to look deeper into the issue using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) Core 2012. The HRS surveys an estimated 20,000 community-dwelling Americans (age 50 years or older), and reports on demographics, physical health conditions, driving status, work status, and other information (Karp, 2007).
My research team and I analyzed relationships between driving and four cardiovascular conditions: heart attack, heart failure, angina, and abnormal heart rhythm. In our analyses, we controlled for levels of physical activity (mild, moderate, and vigorous) and other demographic covariates. Ultimately, we found that the odds of a person with heart failure maintaining the ability to drive is decreased by 38.3% (OR=0.617) in persons age 65 years and older. Heart failure was the only significant cardiovascular condition found to be associated with driving cessation. Since people with heart failure experience poor flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and other body parts (American Heart Association, 2016), we believe such oxygen deficits may inhibit people with heart failure from being physically and/or cognitively able to operate vehicles.
However, it is important to note that due to the cross-sectional nature of this project, we are unable to establish causation in this research. In addition, this research indicates that people who participated in vigorous activity, such as running, swimming, or jogging, at least once a week, had a 1.96 times greater odds of driving, on average, after controlling for cardiovascular health and all other variables. This demonstrates the importance of physical activity in relation to heart health and driving.
Waldron, D., Lee, C.M., Evans, M., Kittle, K., Li, Y., Dowdie, B., & Dugan, E. (2016). Cardiovascular Health and Driving Cessation: Findings from the Health and Retirement Study. Gerontological Society of America, New Orleans, Louisiana.