Increasing number of elderly are still driving

Last updated 09:00 03/05/2014

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More Manawatu senior citizens are staying behind the wheel than before - a trend set to grow as a generation of Baby Boomers gets older.

Grey Power says having a driver's licence installs a sense of self-sufficiency in senior citizens, but a Massey University health researcher says too much emphasis on independence can have the opposite effect if older people feel unable to ask for help.

According to the 2013 Census, there's more than 12,000 people aged 75 and over in Palmerston North city, and Manawatu, Horowhenua, Tararua and Rangitikei regions.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) says older people make up the fastest growing segment of the Kiwi population, with an increasing number holding a driver's licence.

The number of people aged over 75 holding a current driver's licence in the wider Manawatu has grown from 7723 in 2012, to 7954 last year to 8119 so far this year, according to NZTA figures.

This includes more than 280 aged over 90 driving in the region, with 115 of those based in Palmerston North.

Driver licence requirements mean every 75-year-old must resit their licence, with a medical clearance required every two years once a driver reaches 80.

Grey Power Manawatu president Lew Findlay said older people retained their independence through driving.

As well as the logistical benefits of driving, such as going to the supermarket and getting from A to B, there was a social aspect, with a large number of retirees volunteering in the community, he said.

"Without the ability to drive a lot of them feel trapped and at the whim of everyone else."

But Dr Mary Breheny, a senior lecturer at Massey University who researches health and ageing, said the rhetoric around older people maintaining independence could be disabling for some.

There's an emphasis from society for older people to be independent in response to New Zealand's ageing population, she said. However, this reinforced the tendency for older adults to remain stoic and self-sufficient at all costs. This meant senior citizens may become hesitant to ask for help or admit they're unable to do things, such as driving, in fear of becoming a burden on others.

Getting older behind the wheel, P15

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- Manawatu Standard

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