By 2025, one quarter of Americans will be considered elderly, according to Peter Kissinger, president and chief executive of the AAA Foundation for traffic safety. This number does not represent the views of a few, or the lack of respect young Americans have for their elders. Rather, it is based on the basic reality that the Baby Boom generation is moving into their golden years. Next year predicts 39 million Americans over the age of sixty-five, and that number is expected to soar to 69 million by 2030.
The American population is living longer than ever, and with the number of people now approaching, old age, we as a people will find ourselves forced to deal with a new set of problems.
Fortunately, there are forces at work to mitigate the potential obstacles faced by both the aging population and those who share the road with them.
The dangers of older drivers are often difficult to face, but very real. As we age, we face the possibility of slowed physical and mental facilities. Our concentration, decision making abilities, night and peripheral vision, and reaction time can all suffer as we age.
As Bella Dinh-Zarr, the North American director of London based non-profit, Make Roads Safe, recognizes that “we may be wiser drivers when we’re older,” but the fact is that the changes that come with that wisdom can also put us at greater risk.
But help will is available. The AAA Foundation has recently announced a new computer program designed specifically for the purpose of helping older drivers retain the skills necessary for safe driving. The software, called Drive Sharp, released in partnership with brain fitness program provider Posit Science, is intended to delay the degeneration associated with aging by retraining the brain.
Drive Sharp uses two interactive exercises to improve a number of important skills, including the ability to track multiple objects, focus, and memory. These skills will help older drivers to navigate the complex and often fast paced situations of everyday driving can present – for example a busy intersection or understanding the flow of congested traffic.
“Most people buy into the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ philosophy with respect to physical abilities,” said Kissinger about the program. “But the bottom line is, it’s the same thing with the brain – the most important muscle in your body.”
The point is very clear, and fits well with the increasing market of games and activities aimed at older individuals to help retain their mental function. While many of us like to believe that once we attain a skill, it becomes “just like riding a bike,” the fact is that it is not the case. Those capabilities and skills that we do not use regularly atrophy and eventually fade. As difficult as it may be for us to accept at times, understanding this may well allow us to take steps to insure that we can delay the eventuality of giving up driving and all of the independence and freedom it represents. Dinh-Zarr and Kissinger are both optimistic as to this program’s potential to do just that.