RI Hospital: Standardized road test results differ from older adults' natural driving

If you're thinking that little old lady driving 35 miles per hour in the passing lane shouldn't be behind the wheel, you may be right. Studies at Rhode Island Hospital, and elsewhere, have shown that our driving abilities decline with age, and for those with cognitive issues such as dementia, it can be even worse.

A standardized road test – much like the one teenagers take to receive their learner's permit and driver's license – is often used to measure an individual's performance, including those of older adults. But researchers at the Rhode Island Hospital's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center went a step further, installing cameras in the personal vehicles of for two weeks, and then comparing their performance to the standardized test. The study is published in the November 2012 issue of the .

"Many older people don't like to drive far from their homes, they like to stay in their comfort zone," said lead author Jennifer Davis, Ph.D., of the department of at Rhode Island Hospital. "They don't drive many miles, and they often avoid driving at night. Taking them out of that and placing them in an environment of formal test-taking – one which carries with it potentially life-altering consequences (loss of their driver's license)—may lead to significant anxiety, which in itself could impair their driving abilities."

Davis and her colleagues worked with an independent driving instructor who completed the with 103 older adults, some healthy and some with . The researchers then observed the drivers in their natural driving state – in their own vehicles going about their daily routines. The driving instructor compared the videos to each participant's test results and found that the majority of the drivers fared better when driving their own vehicles.

Not surprisingly, the individuals with cognitive impairment had more errors on both the road test and naturalistic driving compared to cognitively healthy older adults. However, the cognitively impaired participants had a greater number of more severe errors on the standardized test than in their natural driving, suggesting that the standardized test may be more cognitively demanding than natural driving.

"It's natural to worry about behind the wheel, even more so if they appear to have memory or cognitive issues, or have been formally diagnosed as such," Davis said. "But many of the people in our study drove safely.

"Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease shouldn't result in an automatic revocation of an individual's driver's license," she said. "Rather, it should emphasize the importance of monitoring an older person's driving, so that he or she can safely maintain their mobility and independence for as long as possible."

Researchers note that this is the first study to compare standardized driving tests with natural driving, and requires further study.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Driving errors increase with age among older drivers

May 16, 2011

Even healthy adults with a safe driving record tend to make more driving errors as they age, including potentially dangerous mistakes, such as failing to check blind spots, according to a study published by the American Psychological ...

Recommended for you

New toilets for India's poor, crime-hit village

21 hours ago

More than 100 new toilets were unveiled Sunday in a poverty-stricken and scandal-hit village in northern India, where fearful and vulnerable women have long been forced to defecate in the open.

Can YouTube save your life?

Aug 29, 2014

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

AMGA: Physician turnover still high in 2013

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For the second year running, physician turnover remains at the highest rate since 2005, according to a report published by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

Obese or overweight teens more likely to become smokers

Aug 29, 2014

A study examining whether overweight or obese teens are at higher risk for substance abuse finds both good and bad news: weight status has no correlation with alcohol or marijuana use but is linked to regular ...

User comments