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Older Drivers Improve Safety With Brain Training

Study finds training cuts accident risk in half

Mature woman's hand on steering wheel of car, close-up

— Joe McBride/Getty Images

Older drivers — who, as a group, are more likely than younger people to be at fault in car crashes and to suffer injuries or death as a result — can cut their risk of causing accidents in half with the right kind of brain-training program, according to a team of researchers.

Researchers at several universities studied more than 900 active drivers with an average age of 73. The drivers were divided into four groups: three groups given 10 sessions of different kinds of brain-training and a control group.

  • The first group used a computer program designed to increase their reaction times.

  • The second learned strategies to improve reasoning and problem-solving.

  • The third got classroom training designed to improve memory.

  • The control group had no training at all.

The researchers conducting the trial then reviewed the participants' state driving records — covering more than 25 million miles — over the next six years. The results: Drivers who received the computer or problem-solving training caused 50 percent fewer accidents during the six years compared with the control group. Those who went through memory training, however, showed no significant change.

"It shows that the right kind of cognitive training can actually improve the driving abilities of older people, who can then benefit from greater independence and a better quality of life," says the study's lead author, Karlene Ball, professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The research was published last month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"The brain at any age is more flexible than people realize," says Jamie Wilson, M.D., of SharpBrains, a think tank and market research firm tracking brain fitness, who was not involved in the study. "If older drivers can train their brains to be more alert and responsive, they can reduce their risk of accidents."

Joan Rattner Heilman writes about health and consumer issues.

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