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Driving & Medications

Medications can keep people feeling fit and healthy longer than ever before. But some can impair driving, especially if used in combination with other drugs.

Did you know two-thirds of people ages 65 and older take five or more daily medications that can impair their safe driving ability?

Prescription and over-the-counter medications come with warnings about possible side effects, such as drowsiness or risks related to driving, yet many people don’t think about them, because they’ve never had a problem. In addition, side effects for an individual drug can change when combined with other medications, especially new prescriptions.

Examples of medications known to impair driving include: 

  • Tranquilizers
  • Narcotic pain pills
  • Sleep medicines
  • Some antidepressants
  • Cough medicines
  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants

Medications can affect vision and perception, decision-making, reaction time and maneuvering – making it a challenge to safely operate a vehicle, especially when a person first begins to take new medications. If you know a senior driver who experiences any of these side effects, ensure that he or she continues taking prescribed medications as directed by the doctor. Also, encourage the driver to consult a doctor or pharmacist immediately for information on how the medications impair driving. Suggest asking to see if the medications can be adjusted to permit safe driving.

Chances are that you’ve heard about a common practice called the “brown bag review.” It refers to the act of placing all of the medications and supplements a patient takes into a brown paper bag to prepare for a medical appointment. This gives health care provides an opportunity to review and discuss medications a patient regularly takes.

Reviewing medications and supplements with a doctor may help to: 

  • Answer patient questions about any medications that may impair driving.
  • Identify and avoid medication errors and potentially serious interactions.
  • Assist the patient in taking medications correctly.
Here are some things you can do to help seniors avoid problems: 
  • Motorists should let their doctor know about all non-prescription, or “over-the-counter” medication they take, because some may interact with prescription medications.
  • There may be ways to minimize the effects of some medicines on driving, such as taking a medicine at night instead of in the morning – but an individual should always check with a doctor before stopping a medication or changing the times they’re taken.
  • With some medications, it may be helpful to refrain from driving for a few days until the body gets used to it.