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Older Drivers More Cautious Than Younger Ones After Surgery

FRIDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Older patients drive more safely than younger patients after having outpatient surgery and receiving a short-acting anesthetic, according to a new study.

It included 198 patients whose driving abilities were tested on a driving simulator before and after they had a minor surgical procedure while under sedation. The researchers looked at the participants' degree of weaving on the road and the number of driving violations (such as running red lights) and accidents.

The amount of weaving before and after surgery differed little, indicating that the anesthetic drugs had largely worn off by the time the patients left the hospital, according to lead investigator Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran and colleagues.

"We also looked to see if older patients were in more or less pain than younger patients and whether that played into the ability to drive," Buvanendran said in an American Society of Anesthesiologists news release.

"We found the amount of pain did not play much importance in the final analysis, but the speed driven did," Buvanendran said. "Older patients drove slower and had corresponding better weaving scores because they were able to correct deviations more quickly. This more cautious driving style led to an overall better and safer driving score."

The study was to be presented this week at the ASA's Anesthesiology 2011 meeting in Chicago.

Older patients may be more aware of the effects of anesthesia than younger patients and therefore drive more cautiously, the researchers suggested.

"With ambulatory surgical procedures becoming more common as well as the increased use of short-acting anesthetics, our team recognized that patients may have a need to drive sooner than the 24-hour waiting period typically recommended," and that's why they decided to conduct this study, Buvanendran explained.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has more about outpatient surgery.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Society of Anesthesiologists, news release, Oct. 17, 2011

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