In order to identify functional ability risk factors for adverse mobility outcomes among older drivers, a collaborative study was initiated in 1998 between the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), NHTSA, and the NIA-funded UAB Roybal Center for Research on Applied Gerontology. In this study, a large sample (N=2415) of older adults was evaluated with a brief battery of performance-based measures after completing license renewal at several MVA field sites. In addition, a sub-sample of these participants (N=1432) was followed for a period of up to ten years by telephone interview in order to monitor changes in their overall health and mobility. Through that study, a limited set of functional ability tests were found to be predictive of future crash involvement, and deemed useful by the Maryland MVA for further evaluation and potential implementation in the licensing process. In addition, these same variables were found to be predictive of general declines in mobility and loss of independence. The present research proposes 1) to continue to follow the 812 older adults remaining in the interview sample as they continue to age, 2) to establish a new, more representative, population-based sample of drivers (aged 70+) using the next generation of functional ability tests to determine whether earlier crash prediction relationships can be replicated, and 3) to evaluate a speed of processing cognitive training program in the context of the MVA as a means of facilitating and extending safe mobility.
Age-related changes in health, as well as physical, sensory, and cognitive function, frequently leave older persons more vulnerable to loss of mobility and increased risk of injuries due to falls or automobile crashes. The relationships between functional abilities and crash risk, demonstrated through this ongoing research project, have received wide attention as this and other societies struggle to develop new policies that balance the need for personal mobility and public safety in an aging population. Findings from the next phase of this study will have important implications for designing policies and programs to extend the safe mobility of older drivers, as well as evaluating the impact of enhancing cognitive function on a variety of other outcomes important to sustaining mobility, health, independence, and a satisfying quality of life.
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