Forget about distracted teenage drivers — seniors can often pose just as great a threat on the road. While many seniors or their adult children ask how seniors can improve their memory, it turns out the same answers can help with driving as well.
Aging and Memory
Studies show that as we age our memory and mental clarity are not as sharp as they once were. And that concept applies to driving cars as well.
Jon Antin, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, notes that on average, drivers over the age of 65 perceive 30 percent less information from a glance at a scene than do younger drivers. As age increases, perception decreases even more.
However, there is an enormous sense of independence that comes with being able to drive a car, and because seniors seldom consider themselves “old people,” they’re not likely to give up driving until it becomes absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, for many older Americans, waiting too long to take action can result in dangerous car accidents.
What’s the Solution?
Neuroscientists have determined that if we exercise our brains we can significantly improve our basic cognitive functions. Now that discovery is going one step further, as scientists like Antin suggest helping these seniors maintain their skills through brain training.
Karlene Ball of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, conducted a study that showed how brain training can reduce the incidence of crashes among older drivers. Now Antin is hoping to verify that information and learn what kind of training works best.
Antin’s project will provide older drivers with brain-training tools, then place them on the road in a car outfitted with sensors and cameras. This will hopefully identify and verify the driving safety benefits. A third of the test subjects will use computerized brain training drills, another third will train using a specially equipped car, and the remaining third will get no brain training at all. Antin will test the participants immediately after their initial brain training, six months later, and then a year later to see if the training had long, short, or no impact at all.
While the results are not yet in, this research could help seniors maintain their independence while keeping everyone on the road a little bit safer.