Physical conditioning helps maintain older adults’ driving performance, decreasing on-road errors by more than one-third, suggests National Institute on Aging-sponsored research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The randomized, controlled trial included 178 drivers age 70 and older who were driving at least once a week and had physical but not substantial visual or cognitive impairments when recruited. The intervention group received 12 weekly visits from a physical therapist who led them through a graduated exercise program to improve flexibility, coordination, and speed of movement relevant to driving and asked them to do the exercises for 15 minutes each day. The control group received monthly in-home education about home safety, fall prevention, and vehicle care.
From baseline to 3 months, overall on-road driving performance remained unchanged among those who took part in the physical conditioning program, while the control group’s performance declined. The investigators assessed the number of “critical errors”—not paying attention, changing lanes without looking, and disobeying traffic signs or signals—made during the on-road driving evaluation. They found that the conditioning group committed 37 percent fewer critical errors, and had fewer falls than the control group over the 3 months.