Your brain in drive

From The Boston Globe:

Driveinside__1248524670_1022 For all the indignities that the elderly suffer, they aren’t typically accused of being a menace to society. Until, that is, they get behind the wheel of a car. Here in Massachusetts, a spate of high-profile accidents involving older drivers – a 92-year-old man who killed his wife by backing over her in a parking lot, an 88-year-old woman who allegedly hit and killed a 4-year-old girl in a crosswalk in Stoughton last month, a 93-year-old man who mistook the gas pedal for the brake and drove through the entrance of a Danvers Wal-Mart – have triggered calls on Beacon Hill for measures that would take older drivers off the roads as their abilities decline. Within families, it has heightened anxieties about whether it may finally be time to take the car keys away from elderly parents or grandparents.

The risk is real. While there is a wide variation, people for the most part grow measurably worse at driving as they age. They experience a steady erosion of physical capabilities like strength, eyesight, and hearing. And perhaps more importantly, they also lose the specific cognitive skills that driving requires. Even a healthy aging brain suffers a declining ability to respond quickly, to take in one’s surroundings and identify potential dangers, and to balance and coordinate all of the different tasks that merely backing out of a driveway can involve.

And yet it also emerges that, as a group, elderly drivers are in far fewer accidents per capita than those in any other age group. Older people, it turns out, have a second set of skills that helps them make up for the ones that have diminished. For many people, old age brings a growing awareness of their own limits, and they compensate by driving less and avoiding situations that overtax their abilities. They don’t drive fast, or at night, or on the freeway, or during rush hour. They certainly don’t text and drive. Consciously or not, older drivers become savvy at working with what they have.

More here.