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Brain Training Exercises Could Help Keep Seniors Behind The Wheel: Study

A study published earlier this year showed that giving up driving nearly doubled the risk of developing depressive symptoms.

AFP Relaxnews

Updated:October 13, 2016, 1:21 PM IST
Brain Training Exercises Could Help Keep Seniors Behind The Wheel: Study
Research suggests there are many advantages to staying behind the wheel into old age. (Photo: AFP Relaxnews)

Participating in brain training tasks which are designed to improve cognitive function could also help keep seniors on the road according to new US research.

Carried out by researchers from Penn State University, the team looked at over 2,000 healthy adults aged 65 or older who were all driving at the beginning of the study. To assess the effects of the different cognitive training programs on driving cessation, participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups – reasoning, memory, divided attention training or no training.

Individuals in the reasoning and the memory training groups completed pencil and paper activities, while those in the divided-attention training used a computer program. The reasoning exercise included brain teasers and taught the participants problem-solving strategies, the memory training involved categorizing lists of words to help with everyday life, such as a list of errands or a grocery list, and the divided-attention tasks used the computer program to show participants several objects on a screen at once for a very brief period of time before asking questions about what they had seen, becoming more difficult after the first five exercises were completed.

Those who were assigned to one of the three cognitive training groups completed 10 hours of cognitive tasks, with some participants also randomly selected to received a further 10 hours of additional "booster" training.

Participants were then assessed by the researchers seven times over the next 10 years.

Published in the journal The Gerontologist, the results showed that those who completed either the reasoning or divided-attention training were between 49 and 55 percent more likely to still be drivers 10 years after the study began than those who didn't complete any training at all. Those who completed the booster training were 70 percent more likely to still be driving.

Lesley A. Ross, Penn State assistant professor of human development and family studies, commented on the significance of the results saying, "Driving cessation has huge ramifications for seniors. It signals an end to freedom, acting as a concrete acknowledgement that you're declining."

Previous studies have also demonstrated the importance of driving in old age, with a study published earlier this year showing that giving up driving resulted in a 51% reduction in the size of senior's social circles, nearly doubled the risk of developing depressive symptoms, and was associated with being nearly five times as likely to be admitted to a form of care home.

Ross and her colleagues now plan to continue their studies on the effect of cognitive training, including looking at the possible benefits of the computer gaming platform Xbox Kinect.

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