Getting older brings on many unwanted changes that can affect your life in a significant way. One being, a decline in your cognitive features. This waning limits your ability to perform certain tasks and functions that you were once able to do with ease. Restrictions such as these often lead to bad judgment and poor performance. And then that awaited moment occurs. The moment of the dreaded conversation. The one when your family members and loved ones urge you to stop driving, failing to realize that taking the keys away from an elderly person who has been driving all of their lives is not the easiest task, and for them can be quite a low point in life. There is almost always a protest and an unwillingness to do so. In fact, for the elderly, losing their driving privileges is ranked among the highest concerns with aging. Because of this, numerous cognitive training programs have been developed and instituted to help senior drivers improve not just cognition or driving ability, but both.
Through these programs, research has shown that:
1) older individuals can improve their visual attention as measured by neuropsychological test measures
2) older drivers’ cognitive deficits are a detriment to their ability to drive safely.
Researchers at MIT believe that exercise and health are both important factors that will help you drive longer and more safely, in addition to flexibility, coordination and strength. With funding help from The Hartford Insurance Group, MIT Age Lab was able to conduct a 10 week study monitoring 60-74 year olds, testing their strength, coordination, and agility through various methods, including video games and a variety of exercises. The video games method also tested for focus and range of motion. They were then tested in a lab measured by a high tech stimulator for pulse rate and eye movement reflexes. The benefits of this study taught participants how to stretch and move better, which in return will help when driving. For instance, the pretzel exercise helps with backing out easily, while a little bit of shadow boxing can help with getting in and out of the car easily. Lastly, the goalie skills exercise helped with lane changes and turns.
As a participant in MIT Age Lab’s study on senior drivers, 72 year-old Stanton Lyman hit the gym to see if more exercise could lead to sharper reflexes behind the wheel. Lyman went on the record stating, “’I definitely feel a looser quality to my ability to move.” Researchers also believe that drivers in their 30s and 40s shouldn’t wait until they hit ‘senior” status to start thinking about improving their flexibility and movement because it can help with tricky moves like parallel parking.
In a nutshell, if drivers take responsibility for improving driver safety at an early age, it will lead to safer driving as they get older. A little more time in the gym could be the key to a little more time on the road.