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Driving Skills Do Ebb With Age: Study
Date:5/21/2011

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- Even healthy seniors with safe driving records and no history of dementia tend to make more potentially dangerous errors, such as forgetting to check a blind spot, according to a new study.

This suggests that driving performance declines with normal aging and more mistakes crop up, putting the elderly at risk of automobile crashes, said the Australian researchers, who suggested additional training in related cognitive skills for older drivers.

That suggestion, however, will likely be controversial.

"It's really hard to re-train the brain," said Renee Pekmezaris, vice president for community and health services in the Research Department of Population Health at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.

Other studies show that cognitive re-training does not reduce older people's driving crashes, said Pekmezaris. "I'm not as hopeful as the study authors about that," she said. "But there are other things we can do."

The study appeared online May 16 in Neuropsychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

In the study, researchers examined the driving habits of 266 healthy drivers ranging in age from 70 to 88 who lived independently and drove at least once a week. Besides completing questionnaires about their health and driving history, the elders took tests on various driving skills such as discrimination, reaction time and the ability to stay focused amid distractions or adapt to changing conditions.

During the 12-mile road test, a professional instructor with access to a brake rode in the car. An occupational therapist sat in the back seat and scored the drivers for skills such as using signals and mirrors, checking the "blind spot" and problems that included veering, tailgating, inappropriate braking and accelerating.

Overall, 17 percent of the drivers made serious
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