A new study had elderly drivers play a series of video games designed to sharpen their responses while driving. After six years, those who played had 50% fewer crashes than those who didn't.
With 22 million Americans over the age of 70 licensed to drive, It's not just the occasional wrong-way trip down a busy interstate that concerns safety experts. Take this segment from today's "Today Show," or as I call the show, "What Will My Mother Be Afraid Of Next?"
In truth, older drivers suffer from a worse safety rep than they deserve. Despite the growing numbers of septuagenarian motorists, serious crashes involving senior citizens have fallen in recent years at a faster clip than crashes among younger drivers, and a typical 70-year-old has the lowest likelihood of being caught in a deadly crash than any other age of driver. Older people tend to not drink and drive, ride motorcycles or do many of the stupid things behind the wheel that get younger people killed. Even so, 3,977 people over the age of 70 died in U.S. crashes in 2008.
The debate over whether video games or memory testing could keep older brains sharp has been far less definitive. The most recent major study of 11,000 people in Britain found no benefits among players of any age.
Yet San Francisco software firm Posit Science has sponsored several studies showing some benefit of using its driver training software for elderly drivers. It claims its DriveTrain software exercises the skills weakest among older drivers, such as reaction times, peripheral vision and the ability to follow multiple objects, all with graphics that won't overtax an elderly Windows XP machine.
The new study, funded by a federal aging research project, divided 908 people with an average age of 73 into four groups. One group played the PositScience games for a total of 10 hours. Another took 10 hours of classroom training on how to improve their reasoning skills. A third also took 10 hours of classroom time on memory skills, and the fourth group did nothing.
The results? After six years, people who either played video games or had the reasoning skills training had 50% fewer crashes than those who took the memory training or had no help. While the memory group showed no benefit from their aid, the first two groups also were less likely to suffer from depression and other ailments.
PositScience claims other studies underway show similar benefits, and its likely that the stronger the proof, the more likely insurance companies will offer discounts to older customers for using such software.
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