Staying behind the Wheel: Extending Older Adults’ Ability to Drive with Cognitive Training

Maintaining the ability to drive is an important way for older adults to maintain their independence, and loss of this ability is associated with negative factors including depression, decreased engagement, and even mortality. Recently, researchers examined whether participation in different types of cognitive training would impact driving cessation for older adults over a 10-year period.

These researchers used data from a 10-year follow-up of the ACTIVE study (see additional findings from the ACTIVE study here), which compared older adults who were randomly assigned to three types of cognitive training or a control group. The training types were for reasoning, memory, or processing speed abilities.

Although earlier research found that participants in this study showed lasting benefits of the training on their ability to conduct instrumental activities of daily living, for participants overall none of the cognitive training was associated with a lower likelihood of driving cessation. However, researchers did identify a subgroup for which some types of training were associated with a lower likelihood of driving cessation. That subgroup was those who showed cognitive difficulties in areas of processing speed and attention at the time the study began (28 percent of all participants). Other research on such individuals also indicates that low scores in these areas are at greater risk for mobility decline. For these individuals, the cognitive training in processing speed led to a 49 percent decreased likelihood of driving cessation, and those who had the reasoning training were 55 percent less likely to cease driving compared to control group individuals with similarly low cognitive scores at the start of the study. For the processing speed group, those participants who received booster sessions following the initial training showed a 70 percent reduction in driving cessation. Similar effects were not seen for those individuals who did the memory training.

The researchers note that these findings are in line with other studies showing the greatest gains from cognitive training are seen in at-risk individuals, who may have greater room for improvement in cognitive and everyday functional abilities. The lack of an association between memory training and reduced likelihood of driving cessation is also a good reminder that the impact of cognitive training does not tend to affect overall cognitive ability, but is limited to the specific areas in which an individual is trained.


Ross LA, Freed SA, Edwards, JD, et al. The impact of three cognitive training programs on driving cessation across 10 years: a randomized controlled trial. The Gerontologist. (2016). gnw143 DOI:10.1093/geront/gnw143

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