November 8, 2010
Los Angeles Times
Linda Shrieves

How can we make older drivers safer drivers? A new study suggests that the answer might be brain training.

A new study published online — and soon available in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society — found that older drivers who completed 10 sessions of brain training had about half as many motor-vehicle collisions in which they were at fault than those who had no training.

The study suggests that the right kind of brain training can produce cognitive improvements that transfer to real-world skills. The study — led by scientists from the University of Alabama, Johns Hopkins University, Indiana University, Penn State and the University of South Florida — included 908 drivers (mean age 73.1) who drove a total of more than 25 million miles over the time of the study. The effects of the computer-based brain training lasted at least six years.

Participants were placed in three different training programs or a control group. The first group of participants completed up to 10 hours of computerized training designed to improve the speed of their visual attention. The second set completed up to 10 hours of classroom training where they learned strategies to improve their memory. The third set completed up to 10 hours of classroom training where they learned ways to improve their reasoning and problem-solving skills. The participants in the control condition completed no brain training exercises at all.

Scientists then reviewed the study participants’ driving records over the next six years. The researchers found that those who had speed training or the classes in reasoning and problem-solving skills had half as many at-fault car crashes as the control group. There was no significant difference observed in the group that used the memory training.

“Considering the importance of driving mobility and the cost of crashes, cognitive training has great potential to sustain independence and quality of life in older adults,” said Jerri Edwards, associate professor of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, and co-author of the paper. “But importantly, this study provides further evidence that the right kind of brain training program can generalize to improve real-world activities among older adults.”

The speed-of-processing training program used in the study is available to consumers as part of the DriveSharp and InSight brain-fitness programs. Allstate Auto Insurance is currently running a pilot program to test the benefits of this software for its members.