Driving home the need to stay social to fight depression
WOMEN need to make time and arrangements to catch up with friends, even when they are no longer able to drive, after new research found that an active social life helped ward off depression in women.
The research, published in the International Psychogeriatrics journal, found there was a link between stopping driving and depression in older women, but the negative mental effects could be buffered by maintaining social contact and participating in social activities.
University of Queensland School of Psychology Professor Nancy Pachana said: "Older women are more likely to stop driving and more likely to stop driving prematurely, and are also more vulnerable to depression than older men."
The research compared mental health and levels of social support in women who continued to drive versus those who stopped driving.
Over a period of nine years the researchers followed 4000 women in their late 70s and 80s participating in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health.
Women who stopped driving reported poorer mental health. Those who stopped driving but maintained their social contacts, such as staying involved in social activities such as the theatre, religious services, sporting events, card games and the like, reported better levels of mental health.
"There's a sense of losing control and independence when you stop driving so it's important to have social support and take action to put alternatives in place before you or a loved one has to stop," Dr Pachana said.
Steps to reduce social isolation could include talking to neighbours, connecting with friends and family through regular phone calls, being active on the internet, learning the public transport system, taking advantage of courtesy bus systems or car-pooling with friends and family.
Driving cessation programs, such as UQ's CarFreeMe, help instruct older drivers about how to stay mobile via public transport, and can assist in maintaining access to social activities.