New research from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity highlights the importance of older adults being able to travel independently, whether by driving themselves or taking public transport.
The study examined the modes of transport predominantly used by over 50s in Ireland, and the effect of independent transportation on mental health.
The research shows a solid connection between ability to drive independently or be driven by a close family member with increased mental wellbeing.
Non-drivers, those who have stopped driving and those whose driving has significantly reduced reported increased symptoms of depression and loneliness, lower quality of life, fewer social networks and lower social participation compared to those in their age group who currently drive.
A lack of independent transport has a greater effect on men than women. Male non drivers and those who have stopped driving reported higher levels of loneliness than women.
Less women, however, remain driving into old age, with only 30% of females over 75 continuing to drive compared to the corresponding 70% of men.
The research also highlights the disparity between the urban and rural public transport links available.
In Dublin 23% of over 50s use public transport frequently, while the corresponding percentage for rural areas stands at only 1.9%.
Principal Investigator of TILDA, Professor Rose Anne Kenny, said: “Ideally, older adults would be supported to drive for as long as it is safe for them to do so and as long as they would like to do so. However, we also need to address the challenge of improved transport networks and availability of local amenities and services that meet the specific needs of older adults and allow them to maintain their independence and social activities.”
“Retaining public transport links and/or identifying alternative means of providing transport is required, and this is especially pertinent given the current challenges to the provision of public transport.”
The vast majority of adults over 50, 87.8% used cars, with only 8.5% of this population demographic utilising the public transport system.
According to TILDA Project Manager and lead author of the paper, Dr Orna Donoghue: “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.”
A key issue for Ireland, as the population continues to age and life expectancy increases, is that of social inclusion and the mobility of the elderly.
Researchers at TILDA aim to improve the quality of life for the elderly and “make Ireland the best place in the world to grow old.”
The research sheds light on the need for accessible transport networks for the elderly nationwide. The researchers also said that the findings highlight the need for increase in information available for the elderly to navigate and plan for changes in their mobility.
TILDA is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Department of Health and Irish Life plc.