When One Spouse Stops Driving, Both Suffer Negative Consequences

When one elderly spouse hangs up the car keys, both partners are less likely to work or volunteer, according to a study done at the University of Missouri-Columbia and published in February 2015 in the journal Research on Aging. The researcher recommends that the elderly, and their adult children, carefully discuss and plan for the transition to driving cessation.

A release from the university notes that the ability to drive can be central to a person’s identity and can be an important expression of independence. When the elderly become unable to drive, due to age or deteriorating health, their emotional well-being can decline as a result of being unable to maintain social relationships or work schedules that require travel by car.

The release quotes Angela Curl, assistant professor in the School of Social Work within the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, as saying, “Individuals should recognize that making the decision to stop driving is a major life change that needs to be taken seriously. The safety of the driver should be discussed as just one factor among many. Any time you recommend that an individual stop driving, you should talk about alternative transportation options or, possibly, relocation. If the family wants to help, it’s best to come up with a concrete transportation plan ahead of time. These are complicated, difficult decisions, and mediation of the discussion can often be helpful through, for example, a social worker or counselor.”

Curl found that when one spouse stopped driving, the likelihood that the other spouse would work or volunteer decreased further over time.

“People who are in the process of making the decision to stop driving often think that their spouses will compensate for their inability to drive,” said Curl. “However, in our research, we found that having a spouse who can drive does not completely remove the negative consequences of driving cessation.”

Curl found that consequences exist for spouses who stop driving and spouses who take on all the driving responsibilities for a household. This could be because individuals who stop driving have less ability to freely transport themselves, so spouses who can still drive may spend more time transporting their partners and have less time available for working or socializing, Curl said.

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