Trajectories of cognitive decline by driving mobility: evidence from the Health and Retirement Study




The recent emphasis of the importance of “aging in place” has highlighted the role of transportation in health promotion over the life course. Driving cessation in later life is associated with numerous poor health outcomes including limitations in social and physical functioning and increased risk of mortality. However, little is known about the relationship between driving cessation and change in cognitive functioning in late life. This study examined the association between driving mobility and trajectories of cognitive functioning among older adults.


Using data from six waves [1998–2008] of the Health and Retirement Study, trajectories of cognitive functioning were estimated over a 10-year period using longitudinal mixed effects models [N = 9,135]. Cognitive function was assessed with a modified version of the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status. Driving status and health characteristics were assessed by self-report.


Older adults who did not drive (former and never drivers) at baseline had lower average cognitive scores compared with active drivers. Former drivers had accelerated cognitive decline over the subsequent 10 years compared with active drivers (β = −0.35, 95% Confidence Interval [CI] = −0.43 to −0.26) even after controlling for baseline cognitive functioning and health status. The transition to non-driving was associated with a faster cognitive decline among those who were driving at baseline (β = −0.31, 95% CI = −0.40 to −0.22).


Older adults without driving mobility had poorer cognitive functioning at baseline and experienced accelerated cognitive decline relative to active drivers over follow-up. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.