For older adults activities of daily living (ADLs) become more stressful and present the aging population with new challenges. One of those challenges is operating a vehicle. Not only are there more cars on the road and new laws to follow everyday, but it can be difficult for some older adults to accomplish a simple trip to the store,due to cognitive declines. Studies have shown that age related declines can impair older drivers, making common driving maneuvers, such as quickly navigating between the gas and brake pedal, much more challenging.
Where does this leave those older drivers who can physically (and legally) drive but may be at risk in losing this ADL? Can we do more to serve this population? Yes, we can!
The 2010 study Cognitive Training Decreases Motor Vehicle Collision Involvement of Older Drivers by Ball, Ross, and McGwin looked at community-dwelling seniors across the country. 908 seniors were divided into three cognitive groups and one control group.
The interventions lasted up to ten sessions of cognitive training for memory, reasoning, or speed processing. The control group did not participate in a cognitive intervention. Following the study the researchers recorded the motor vehicle collision (MVC) involvement over six years.
What were the results?
The Speed-of-Processing and Reasoning Training Groups experienced lower rates of collisions over the six-year period when compared to the Control Group. There was a 50% decrease in at-fault MVCs among the Speed-Processing and Reasoning Group of seniors when compared to the Control Group.
Imagine 50% more seniors driving safely on the roads.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) there were 40 million drivers over the age of 65 legally driving in 2015. The CDC realizes that driving is a way for this older population to maintain mobility and independence but warns that the risk of a MVC and injury increases with age.
Where do we go from here?
Not only are the commuting benefits of having a safe driving population intriguing, but we must also consider the longevity of independence for this population. Cognitive or “brain fitness” training programs can be beneficial to older drivers who need to speed up their skills for tasks like driving. Helping seniors to remain independent longer can greatly improve the quality of their lives. These brain fitness programs have been proven to increase cognitive abilities that decline with advancing age. That being said, there is evidence to support the continued pursuit of cognitive intervention to enhance the safety of older drivers.
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Ball, K., Edwards, J. D., Ross, L. A. and McGwin, Jr., G. (2010), Cognitive Training Decreases Motor Vehicle Collision Involvement of Older Drivers. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58: 2107–2113. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03138.x