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It might be the meds: Are seniors driving under the influence?

elderly driver behind the wheelMany older adults might be driving under the influence without even knowing it. Common drugs—from painkillers to beta-blockers—can impair driving abilities by causing dizziness, sleepiness and even disorientation. But seniors, who are more likely to take them, are rarely aware of the risk, according to a recent report [pdf] by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (and highlighted today by the Wall Street Journal).

Of the 630 55-plus individuals surveyed—92 percent of whom still drove—about 69 percent were taking at least one prescription medication that could impair their driving, but more than 80 percent had not been warned about the possible impact of these drugs on driving. And of those who were taking five or more of these potentially impairing drugs (about 10 percent of the respondents), only about 22 percent had "some awareness" of the side effects, leaving the rest in the dark when they got behind the wheel.

In fact, as age—and likelihood of taking more medications—increased, the awareness of these potential side effects actually decreased.

The lack of knowledge about the risks associated with medications worries some. "That's really scary," Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation, told The New York Times last week, referring to the percentage of drivers who might be ignorant of being impaired by the drugs prescribed to them. He went on to note that those in the health care industry "are not effectively communicating known risks." And that could endanger seniors and others on the road.

Just how many accidents are caused by drivers under the influence of legal drugs? Researchers don't know yet, notes the Times, because often people are not tested for medications—like they might be for alcohol—after a wreck.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Rendery

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