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Training for elderly drivers boosts skills

The Yomiuri Shimbun

An elderly driver practices in Nagoya while an instructor cautions on actions such as stopping positions at crossroads and speed.

The Yomiuri Shimbun A governmental research institute and a driving school have developed a training curriculum for elderly drivers to improve their safe driving skills and prevent accidents that may be caused by them.

The entities conducted the training on a trial basis for elderly people whose cognitive functions were found to have deteriorated, and the results showed that their safe driving abilities, including attentiveness and capacity for judgment, remarkably improved. The effects of the training were still seen one year later.

The National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, a state-run research institute in Obu, Aichi Prefecture, which led the development of the curriculum, will ask for cooperation from other entities concerned to put the curriculum into practice, such as by providing training when driver’s licenses are renewed.

The curriculum mainly comprises simulations and actual driving exercises. Participants brush up on their ability to predict danger and their dynamic visual acuity by training with equipment and tools. They also practice actually driving cars at driving schools.

In each of the two phases, participants receive training for 50 minutes a week for a total of 10 sessions.

In the actual driving exercises, actions such as the length of time a driver takes to turn right are measured, so that elderly participants can recognize that each of their motions take longer than before due to the effects of aging.

An official of Midorigaoka Driving School in Nagoya, which considered details of the training, said, “We aimed to help participants renew their knowledge of driving rules and the features of automatic transmission cars, and to be aware of their bodily decline.”

To examine the effectiveness of the curriculum, people aged 65 to 88 who often drive cars and whose cognitive functions were found to have waned — though they do not have dementia — in health checks conducted by the center and other medical institutions cooperated in the testing.

They were divided into one group of 70 people who received training in accordance with the curriculum, and another group of 76 who did not receive such training.

Starting in April 2015, the center and the driving school had the participants receive the training one by one.

Before and shortly after the training sessions and then one year later, the participants’ skills were tested mainly in the judgments they made when turning right and left and when changing lanes, and whether they confirmed safety as necessary.

The results showed that all of the participants who received the training recorded higher scores afterward. On average, their scores rose 74 percent.

Twenty of them were examined in follow-up research. Even after one year, their test scores continued to be 60 percent higher on average than their scores before the training.

The scores of the other 76 participants who did not receive the training fell an average of 12 percent one year later.

A 69-year-old man in Obu who did the training said: “I understood that peripheral vision and other capabilities have changed a lot since my younger days. As I need to drive for shopping and other daily needs, I have to be aware of the points that were explained.”

Hiroyuki Shimada, chief of a research department at the center, said: “Though elderly people must surrender their driver’s licenses if dangers exist, to stop driving significantly affects one’s daily life. We’d like to put the curriculum into practice as soon as possible, so that elderly people will be able to drive cars safely.”

500,000 drivers’ cognition down

Drivers aged 75 or older are obliged to receive checks on cognitive functions when their driver’s licenses are renewed.

In 2015, 1.63 million people received the checks. While about two-thirds of them were judged to have no problems, about 50,000 were judged to be possibly suffering from dementia, while about 500,000 were told that their cognitive functions had waned.

According to the National Police Agency, there were 458 fatal traffic accidents caused by drivers 75 or older in 2015. About 40 percent of these drivers had received results saying that their cognitive functions had diminished when they renewed their driver’s licenses.Speech

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