A new study funded by the American Geriatrics Society reveals the importance of driving a car for feelings of independence and life satisfaction in older adults. Although age-related declines in physical and cognitive functioning make driving more difficult for older people, 81 percent of people aged 65 and older in the U.S. hold a drivers license.

The team of researchers that headed the study examined 16 separate studies that analyzed the health and well-being of older adults after they stopped driving, revealing that after this point, their health declined in numerous ways. The biggest downside was the risk of depression, with those not being able to drive experiencing double the risk of developing symptoms. Furthermore, cessation of driving was linked to declines in physical and mental health, as well as increased risk of death.

The main reasons for these declines in older adults that stop driving is believed to be the decrease in out-of-home activities, which leads to less opportunities for social interaction.

"For many older adults, driving is more than a privilege. It is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom, and independence," Guohua Li, senior author of the study, said in a press release. "It is almost inevitable to face the decision to stop driving during the aging process as cognitive and physical functions decline. When decision time comes, it is important to take into consideration the potential for adverse health consequences of driving cessation and to make personalized plans to maintain mobility and social activities."

Li also notes that the availability of alternative transportation is not guaranteed to counter these negative effects of driving cessation, instead pointing to the necessity for programs that can ensure and prolong elderly mobility and physical and social functioning.

The findings were published in the Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.