Strategy v’s Skills
Drivers progressively develop a series of driving strategies which compensate for their declining skills. For example, a driver who is slow to react gradually learns to keep an ever greater distance from the car ahead. This provides more time to respond when that car slows down or stops. This compensatory strategy is a proper and necessary thing to do, but it also disguises the driver’s slowing reaction time. Unfortunately when an emergency occurs, such as a child leaping out onto the road, the driver’s inability to react rapidly may have fatal consequences. In this situation, the compensatory strategy is of no benefit.
The older the driver, the more compensatory strategies adopted. These strategies while useful for day to day driving have little effect in emergencies when the core underlying cognitive skills are called upon. The driver’s profile changes from having strong core cognitive skills to relying more and more on compensatory strategies. Driving by itself cannot improve these underlying skills as well as specific brain exercises can. Training these then provides a broader combination of skills to draw on – both core cognitive abilities and compensatory strategies.
Improving Specific Skills
Most people overestimate their driving skills at any age. But it is always better to measure rather than guess. You can become a better and safer driver at any age. The higher your combination of skills, the better driver you are. But more importantly the better driver you are for longer. In order to keep driving for as long as possible you need to start sharpening your suite of skills as early as possible. The depth and refinement of each of the following cognitive skills declines with age .....
· Attention – the ability to maintain your concentration on a task for lengthy periods of time
· Divided Attention – being able to read road signs while maintaining driving focus
· Inhibition – quickly recognising and dismissing distractions
· Peripheral Vision – being able to see surrounding pedestrians and traffic
· Judgement – Correctly estimating the distance and speed of oncoming traffic
· Planning Agility – Adjusting to changing traffic conditions as they are occurring
· Response Time – Responding to braking vehicles, traffic lights and emergencies
· Co-Ordination – hand and foot co-ordination with what you see
· Short Term Memory – remembering directions while driving
· Memory – remembering new road rules
· Prediction – adjusting to environmental conditions
These are all different skills and need to be individually trained to maintain good performance. Everyone will tend to be good at some of these skills and less good at others. Just like sports coaches who break down what their athletes do and train individual skills in specific ways. Proactive Ageing will assess all of these skills then provide you with a targeted training program that broadly exercises all of these skills but focuses in specifically on the ones in which you need the most attention.
Safety and Independence
You are responsible for your driving safety. In particular, in making decisions about how, where and when you drive, based on what you know about your driving skills. Most older drivers compensate for their age related decline by self restricting and limiting their driving, e.g. by driving in local areas, avoiding peak traffic times and by not driving at night. Proactive Ageing can help you get the right information so that you can continue to make the best decisions over time. This will involve ....
· Your physical readiness to drive, primarily eye examinations, grip strength, neck mobility, muscle and joint sensation (avoiding chronic pain or numbness), and your need for rest (avoiding drowsiness or dizziness)
· Your mental skills to drive, primarily your peripheral vision, reaction time, ability to track moving objects and your memory
· Understanding your emotional regulation
· Keeping your car in safe mechanical order, including regular car maintenance, age assisted devices and driving position
· Changing driving practices – restricting driving to your local area, avoiding nights, certain weather conditions, peak periods, towing, and considering restricted licenses
· Regular assessments of all aspects of safe driving
Proactive Ageing wants to enhance the quality of life for all of us as we age. Driving is important to the quality of life that most of us cherish. Our program is geared to providing you with the skills to maximise your safety both for today and for the decades that follow. We will assist you to ....
· understand your physical fitness to drive by encouraging regular medical checkups and eye tests
· understand your mental fitness to drive by helping you assess and train a number of key cognitive skills
· feel confident about recognising and adapting to normal age related changes as they occur, in particular in making gradual adjustments to your driving behaviour so that everyone can stay safe on the road
It is important that you have enough knowledge to make an informed choice. How far you go is up to you.
Changes in Performance
Driving has become a way of life and a necessity for many people. It means freedom and independence, the ability to go where you want, stay as long as you want, to be spontaneous, social and vital.
Driving skills do decline with age. However that doesn’t mean that all older drivers are bad drivers. Drivers that actively work on their skills can maintain good driving performance for long periods of time. Performance is not a switch; it declines barely noticeably over time. But when you do notice, your performance has deteriorated a long way. The good news is that most driving skills can be enhanced with the right training at any age. Mental performance starts declining at age 30 and the earlier you raise your baseline skills the more protracted the decline and the longer you can stay on the road.
If there comes a time when it is no longer safe for you to drive, then of course you should stop. But some of us may quit before we need to, potentially robbing ourselves of many years of independence and control – for no good reason. If you maintain your physical health, drive a safe car and adjust your driving to compensate for medical or ageing related challenges, you’ll likely be able to keep driving years longer than you might have expected. If driving is important to you, don’t leave your future to chance.
There are ways to determine just how good a driver you are today and there are ways to determine if the time comes when you really need to stop driving, or if you could continue to drive with some modifications. If you have any doubt, we strongly recommend that you have your driving professionally evaluated.