Las personas mayores dejan de conducir a los 75 años tras un año de titubeos

Cuestionamiento sobre la Conducción de Mayores: Un Estudio de la Fundación MAPFRE y el Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Se han visto titulares en los medios de comunicación que dicen: «Mueren dos octogenarios tras colisionar contra un camión en un semáforo en Madrid», «La distracción de un conductor de 69 años, detrás del accidente mortal de dos octogenarias en Aznalcázar» o «Dos rescatados de 95 y 65 años de un arroyo al que habían caído tras salirse de la carretera». Estos titulares generan alertas frecuentes sobre la idoneidad de que las personas mayores continúen conduciendo.

Jesús Monclús, director de Prevención y Seguridad Vial de Fundación MAPFRE, ha comentado sobre este debate social durante la presentación del estudio «El proceso de cese de la conducción en personas mayores«. Este estudio busca entender el proceso socioemocional de dejar de conducir desde una perspectiva humana y profesional.

La Traumática Decisión de Dejar de Conducir

Aparcar el coche para siempre puede ser un proceso traumático para muchos mayores, especialmente cuando no existen alternativas de transporte público. El estudio, realizado conjuntamente por la Fundación MAPFRE y el Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Barcelona), enfatiza en la necesidad de no restringir injustificadamente la movilidad, pero tampoco permitir la conducción cuando exista un peligro para uno mismo o para los demás.

El informe también destaca la importancia de una comunicación abierta entre los mayores, familiares y los especialistas médicos respecto al hecho de dejar de conducir, un tema que aún resulta tabú. Según los expertos, esta comunicación es clave para analizar cada caso de forma individual y ayudar a estas personas a tomar la decisión adecuada.

El estudio aporta datos de entrevistas realizadas a un grupo de casi 50 personas que han experimentado un proceso de cese de la conducción, incluyendo mayores que han acudido a una unidad de memoria y familiares que han vivido esta experiencia con un allegado de edad avanzada.

Según esta muestra, la edad promedio para dejar de conducir es a los 75 años, después de un año de consideración. Así, el 45% de los exconductores mayores reconoce haber dejado de conducir de manera sugerida o forzada por las personas de su entorno debido a sus condiciones médicas (41%), problemas de memoria (36%), dificultades para conducir el vehículo (32%) y un diagnóstico de demencia (23%).

Sin embargo, las respuestas difieren cuando son los familiares los que responden: un 74% de ellos asegura que el mayor ha dejado la conducción de forma involuntaria, principalmente por problemas cognitivos (61%), deficiencias en la conducción y malas condiciones físicas (35%), así como debido a un diagnóstico de demencia (17%).

Las Consecuencias Emocionales y Físicas de Dejar de Conducir

Beliefs such as «Ya no soy el mismo», «Mi familia ya no confía en mí» and «Ya no sirvo para nada» are typical among this group when they say goodbye to the keys. According to the survey, in cases of ‘forced’ cessation, 41% live it negatively, as they feel they lose autonomy because they do not believe they should give it up (27%), because they feel they do not have control over the decision (18%) and because it causes them shame and a feeling of uselessness (14%).

Among the most common consequences when driving is abandoned, the fact stands out that these people have a lower level of independence (44%) and often abandon some of their usual activities (45%). Four out of every 10 also acknowledge that their cognitive functioning improves when they say goodbye to the keys.

«Simply because they are older, they are not more dangerous,» Monclús reminded. Accidents with drivers over 65 are between 24% and 51% less frequent than those recorded by younger people (UNESPA) and that those over 74 have the highest rate of road fatalities among all age groups (DGT), partly due to their greater physical frailty and the fact that, often, these people drive older vehicles than the average and move, more frequently than other drivers, on secondary roads, less safe than highways and freeways.

«When an older person is healthy – he has noted – it is a traffic protective factor against those who are younger and drive stressed, for example. Older people make better decisions although they take a little longer but they drive more safely and cautiously.

The problem is that life expectancy is increasing and the older population is very large. However, «there are very few supports,» said Isabel Sala, neuropsychologist of the Memory Unit, of the Neurology Service of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona. «We are often asked about this issue and, although it is true that age is a risk factor for the development of cognitive deterioration, we must know what we are facing in each case.»

Neurologists lack guidelines on which they can rely to make decisions and accompany in the indication to abandon driving. The Spanish Society of Neurology published in 2019 a ‘Manual of Neurology and Driving’ in which it reviews each neurological condition and suggests a series of recommendations.

It is therefore urgent to improve knowledge about the relationship between initial cognitive impairment and road safety and reach a consensus on the steps to follow. In addition, both experts agreed on the importance of designing new aptitude tests for older drivers, promoting refresher courses on driving knowledge and skills in all drivers and providing them with tools for preliminary self-diagnosis of driving capabilities.

To avoid risks at the wheel, road safety experts from the MAPFRE Foundation recommend these people: undergo all the necessary psychophysical examinations for the renewal of the driving license and follow the recommendations of the doctors; travel accompanied whenever possible, do not use the car at peak times, in adverse weather conditions and at night; and be aware of the effects of the medications they are taking and their possible implications for driving. They also advise approaching intersections carefully, getting used to looking twice on both sides of the road before proceeding and taking extra precautions when turning; as well as using public transport whenever this possibility exists.

In Spain, as the DGT recalls, there is no age limit for driving although from the age of 65 the frequency with which the permit must be renewed is increased: cars, motorcycles and motorcycles (AM, A1, A2, A, B) and driving licenses are renewed every 5 years and professional bus and truck permits (C, C1, D, D1, EC, EC1, ED, ED1…) every three.

The prevalence of moderate cognitive impairment in the Spanish population over 65 is 4-9 %, as the report notes. Therefore, Sala explained that it is necessary to distinguish between mild, moderate or severe cognitive impairment. «The first thing is to consult with the primary care physician, who will determine whether or not to refer the specialist.»

However, according to the neuropsychologist, «almost 30% of patients with dementia continue to drive and therefore have a higher probability of having an accident.» In fact, cognitive problems are, according to the study, the main reason why drivers, as well as family members, began to consider leaving the keys.