Carried out by Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan and led by Rui Nouchi, associate professor in the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, the research found that seniors who played a new, specially developed game called "Cognitive Training for Car Driving" (CTCD) that tested their reaction times, attention spans and memories for six weeks, performed better behind the wheel in real life.
The researchers said the study was the result of their efforts to improve the driving skills of older drivers, and therefore reduce crash risks associated with them.
According to the researchers, older drivers have been found to be more likely to crash their vehicles than those who are middle-aged – something thought to be the result of age-related cognitive decline that affects processing speed and attention span.
The study was carried out by randomly dividing 60 adults between the ages of 65 and 80 into two groups – one group played CTCD, while the other played other video games that tested their thinking speeds. The participants played for 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week for six weeks.
The researchers also noted that the participants’ driving skills were assessed before and after the six weeks via a 20-minute on-road test with an instructor.
As published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, the group that played CTCD reported significant improvement in their road skills and processing speeds.
“These results extended our previous findings that regular use of a simple cognitive training game can benefit older adults who drive cars,” Nouchi said in their study.
Nouichi and the researchers stressed, however, that the improvement in some of the participants’ road and cognitive skills do not mean that they automatically became good drivers, noting that the study only measured the effect of cognitive-training games on a player's short-term driving skills.
According to the research team, future studies should investigate whether cognitive training reduces the number of collisions, as well as analyze its effects over the long term.
With the world’s life expectancy having gone up within the past few decades, the number of older drivers has risen at a significant rate. However, given that driving itself is already a complex task involving visual, motor and cognitive skills, it becomes more difficult as one progresses in age. In fact, according to an earlier study published by RAND Corporation, older drivers are 16 percent more likely to crash their vehicles and cause accidents than those who are middle-aged and younger.
So, how does one lessen the risks associated with elderly and by extension, medically at-risk drivers? Here are some tips:
Regular physical activity can improve a person's strength and flexibility, which can improve driver safety by making it easier to turn the steering wheel, look over his shoulder and make other movements necessary for safe driving and parking.
Ask your medical care provider and physical instructor for age-appropriate exercises that you can integrate into your fitness routine.
Have your vision and hearing checked
Some senses, such as hearing and vision, often decline as you age. Needless to say, this poses a problem: Impaired hearing can prevent a driver from hearing other approaching vehicles, while impaired vision stemming from age-related conditions such as glaucoma can make it difficult for one to see road signs and pedestrian activity.
Don’t drive after taking medication and supplements
If you are taking medication or supplements that cause drowsiness or dizziness, consider either postponing your trip or letting others drive for you. The same thing is especially true if you take substances such as medically prescribed cannabis. (Related: “Driving While Medicated” now a greater danger to society than driving drunk: Crashes from prescription meds up 100% in past decade.)
Make improvements on your car
Invest in ergonomic car seats and special steering wheel covers, especially if driving for long distances causes your back to ache and your hands to go numb.
If you find it difficult to comfortably get in and out of your car or if you find it difficult to read the dials on your dashboard, it may be better to trade your car for more senior-friendly models altogether, such as those that come equipped with improved safety features that can help you avoid collisions, safely change lanes and manage blind spots effectively.
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