Older patients were discovered to be better drivers than the younger crowd after surgery and anesthesia care at an ambulatory surgery facility, says a study that was shown at ANESTHESIOLOGY 2011.
As ambulatory surgery becomes common, not to mention the increased use of short acting anesthetics, the researchers noticed that patients may need to drive earlier than the allotted 24-hour waiting period. Dr Asokumar Buvanendran, lead author, said their study evaluated the anesthetics’ safety as it relates to a patient’s driving ability before and after surgery.
The study examined 198 patients scheduled for minor same day surgery using a driving simulator, demonstrating a drive from the hospital to their residence. The patients were tested at two points: right before surgery began and again just before they had to leave the facility, after a small surgical procedure while in sedation.
The researchers observed the amount of “weaving” on the road, as well as the number of accidents and the frequency of driving violations, such as passing red lights. The weaving after surgery, computed at an average of 1.64 feet, was close to the value calculated before surgery, average of 1.63 feet. This means that the drugs administered for surgery lost their effects by the time the patients were discharged from the hospital.
Dr Buvanendran and colleagues also observed if older patients were in more or less pain than younger ones, and if that factored into their driving abilities. In the end, pain wasn’t a major contributor, although the speed the patients drove at was. Older patients are slower drivers and typically gained better weaving scores since they were able to recover from weaving faster. Thus, their driving style resulted to a better driving score.
The researchers suspect that older patients may be more sensitive to the effects of anesthesia compared to younger patients and because of this, they drive with more caution. Because it’s an inherent safety mechanism, overall age wasn’t a suitable indicator of driving ability. Deeper research must be made to observe the relationship between age and driving, both in more controlled and more realistic conditions, because there is a possibility that older patients may be better drivers in a real-world setting, credit to their more cautious driving style. The patients’ driving proficiency remained the same before and after surgery.