Driving can help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly
Driving a car is one of the most complex cognitive tasks we can do on a daily basis. The steering process requires a variety of cognitive abilities, from those used to perform vehicle control movements, to the processing of visual information and memory. As we get older, these cognitive functions tend to decline, making driving a more difficult and dangerous activity over time.
However, a number of recent research - published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science - suggests that the cognitive demands of driving may actually help reduce the cognitive decline caused by aging. In addition, driving or having mobility easiness can play a role in keeping older, healthy, active and socially engaged.
People who are not able to drive safely should not pick up the keys to a vehicle, but several studies have shown that stopping driving is associated with decreased emotional and physical health of the elderly. A recent epidemiological study conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky found that driving can be positively linked to maintenance of cognitive activities. According to them, stopping driving can also be a risk factor to accelerate the cognitive loss that happens over time. Thus, the study suggests that the relationship between stopping driving and cognitive functioning should be bidirectional.
How it was done
Scholars analyzed about 9,000 seniors over the ten year period (1998 to 2008). In each part of the study the participants completed a battery of cognitive tests over the phone, which included measuring memory, speed of mental processing, knowledge and language. They were also asked if they were active drivers, whether they stopped driving, or had never driven a car.
They found that participants who stopped driving showed an acceleration of cognitive decline in the subsequent ten years compared to active drivers- after having a basis of control of the cognitive functioning and health condition of each.
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