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Aging drivers -- seniors need tech; caregivers need to provide it
The truth about cars. As a society, we're not getting any younger. And our driving is going to imperil us, sooner or later, as this Times article painfully illustrates. On the 'positive' side, older drivers are not responsible for the bulk of traffic accidents (adults age 20-34 have that distinction) and they experience fewer fatal crashes per licensed driver. Okay -- so that's the good news.
Early onset Alzheimer's -- trouble making driving decisions. Dr. Jaime Fitten, professor of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA showed a video at the UCLA Technology and Aging conference from his research that depicted a 67-year-old driver who could not navigate directional road signs, turning the wrong way into a 'Do Not Enter' street. My gut feel while watching that is if a diagnosis of Alzheimer's has been obtained, the diagnosing neurologist should issue a 'do not drive' prescription at that point -- I have not yet heard of such an explicit and written doctor's order, but maybe it exists. Meanwhile, when accidents happen and are highly publicized, as in Massachusetts, legislatures are kicking into action to add road and vision testing based on age. While these steps are embattled now, it is likely that some will pass -- even though age may not be the only criteria.
But insight into the brain could suggest a few other choices. In this Boston Globe article, the following caught my eye. "The speed at which neurons can convey impulses drops off, and as a result, so do our reflexes. An 80-year-old driver who sees a motorcycle dart in front of his car is going to take a potentially fatal split-second longer to hit the brakes than a 30-year-old driver." So let's look at what's possible to mitigate this risk.
Brain fitness training expands the useful field of view (UFOV). A few months ago, PositScience and AAA introduced the DriveSharp program, a $129 software program. Use of the program has been studied and shown to expand UFOV so that reaction time to objects appearing in peripheral vision can be seen and responded to more quickly -- cutting crash risk by as much as 50%.
Mobileye - part of new cars, can be retrofitted onto old cars. According to Skip Kinford, CEO of Mobileye Corp, their camera-based early warning system can be installed on existing cars (it's an option or standard on many new cars today) -- there are installers around the country and he cited a price point of $800 and the ability to retrofit a car (introduced in 2006). The system warns about lane departures (it beeps) and also has a collision warning system that can be adjusted to the number of seconds that makes sense for a specific driver or driving conditions.
So if the car can warn about lane departures and possible near-collisions and the software can expand UFOV, these are two useful elements that can help maintain safe driving into the later years, unless dementia or physical impairments are shown to be limiting factors. And here's a summary article on technologies that can help from CTV. If that's the case, a doctor's prescription to stop driving makes sense, but what are the alternatives? Where are the SilverRide businesses that should be available in every metropolitan area? Thinking of starting a business? Transportation services for those who shouldn't drive are right up there on my list of unmet needs.