Can cognitive training prolong older adults’ ability to drive a car? In a ten-year study that earned a 2018 Bronze Mather LifeWays Innovative Research on Aging Award, researchers investigated this question.
The researchers were interested in the long-term impact on older adults’ driving ability of a six-week cognitive training intervention. They used data from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, a larger study on cognitive interventions for older adults. Other findings from the ACTIVE study have been covered previously.
The 2,402 participants (average age 73) were self-reported drivers, in relatively good health, and randomly assigned to one of three intervention groups or to a control group. Over six weeks, participants completed ten 60- to 75-minute training sessions on processing speed, reasoning, or memory training, while controls did not attend any training sessions. Some participants also completed up to eight booster sessions over the following three years. All participants completed follow-up assessments at two months and one, two, three, five, and ten years after the intervention.
By the ten-year follow-up, only 8.7 percent of all participants had reported that they had ceased driving. Neither the training interventions nor the booster sessions were associated with driving cessation. However, among participants who had performed poorly on cognitive tests at baseline (before the intervention), completion of the processing speed and reasoning training interventions significantly reduced the likelihood of driving cessation by about half. This was reduced even further for participants who completed booster sessions in processing speed. Memory training was not associated with driving cessation.
For comparison, 11.9 percent of processing speed and 11 percent of reasoning training participants had quit driving by the ten-year follow-up, while 16.4 percent of controls and 14.8 percent of memory training participants had quit driving.
Older adults who perform poorly on cognitive tests have an increased risk of mobility decline and driving cessation. Results from this study suggest that processing speed and reasoning training interventions are particularly beneficial for these older adults. Being able to drive allows older adults to remain independent for longer and helps to reduce isolation. Enhancing this ability may have benefits to older adults’ health as well.
Ross LA, Freed SA, Edwards JD, Phillips CB, et al. The impact of three cognitive training programs on driving cessation across 10 years: A randomized controlled trial. The Gerontologist (2017); 57(5): 838-846.