It is one of the most difficult things for many families to go through when they know an elderly loved one should no longer be behind the wheel.

A study finds health risks to seniors who stop driving. (ThinkStock)

A new report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University found that older adults who have stopped driving are nearly two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who continue driving.

"With the cessation of driving, older adults have diminished productivity and lower participation in daily life activities outside the home," said Tracy Noble, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Unfortunately, the study found that the risk of depression nearly doubled."

The number of drivers ages 65 and older continues to increase in the United States with nearly 81 percent of the 39.5 million seniors in this age group still behind the wheel.  With the cessation of driving, the study also found:

  • 51 percent reduction in the size of social networks over a 13-year period;
  • Accelerated decline in cognitive ability over a 10-year period; and
  • Former drivers were five times as likely to be admitted to a long term care facility.

"Giving up driving is a very emotional process for adults and it's not something to be taken lightly and of course, we want to keep seniors driving as long as possible and as safely as possible," Noble said. "Before having to give up the keys, we recommend that you look into alternatives. It's important to find out what transportation methods are available for seniors in the community whether it be ride-sharing programs or public transportation."

AAA offers many programs for senior drivers, including Roadwise Review, which is a free online confidential screening and self-assessment tool to help older drivers measure certain mental and physical abilities that are important for safe driving.  For more information, visit