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Driving may help prevent cognitive decline

Dementia and other associated cognitive disorders are known to be profoundly connected with age, and the pervasiveness is expected to surge radically with a swiftly aging population. In face of such projected expansion of individuals who are expected to develop dementia, it is becoming increasingly imperative to develop all-inclusive prevention strategies for dementia and other cognitive disorders.

As of now, an estimated 35.6 million people are struggling with dementia around the globe, and the number is projected to almost double every 20 years, reaching an overwhelming 115.4 million in 2050.

As a consequence, there has been a widening interest in exploring techniques to keep our brains active and alert by sustaining or improving cognitive function.

Study linking driving to cognitive preservation

A new epidemiological study carried out in collaboration by behavioral scientists Moon Choi and Matthew C. Lohman of University of Kentucky and Brian Mezuk of Virginia Commonwealth University depicted driving to be positively related to the sustaining of cognitive function.

Even though previous research has indicated that cognitive decline causes people to stop driving, Choi and his colleagues believe that the influence goes both ways: cognitive decline can be caused by a cessation of driving.

The researchers evaluated data, composed between 1998 and 2008, from over 9,000 seniors. Each interval of the study had participants complete a telephonic cognitive sequence consisting of evaluations of memory, the pace of mental processing, awareness and language. Participants also reported their driving status.

The researchers discovered that participants who stopped driving represented an aggravated cognitive decline over the ensuing 10 years when compared with active drivers despite holding baseline cognitive operation and health status as controls. The results from the study revealed older adults, who had stopped driving, were more susceptible to an aggravated cognitive deterioration. Such population is believed to significantly benefit from interventions that encourage and elicit social, mental and cognitive involvement.

Driving-based cognitive intervention

One such intervention was carried out by Jerri Edwards of University of South Florida alongside other researchers. This intervention involved 134 senior participants with poor scores on visual driving tests. Researchers divided them into two groups, one receiving cognitive training and one receiving computer training.

Those in the cognitive training group finished computer exercises intended to augment information processing rate sounds and visual stimuli auditory targets. On the other hand, participants subjected to computer training condition finished training exercises based upon elementary computer usage, such as using e-mail.

A three-year follow-up later, revealed that those who received cognitive processing training continued to drive at the same pace as low-risk older drivers. However, participants in the computer training group reported that their ability to drive was diminishing.

Such scientifically-backed cognitive training programs have the ability to improve the daily lives of older adults by not just enhancing cognitive function, but also prevent limitations to mobility.

Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health treatment provider, devoted to evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses. We aim to see our patients not just succeed in treatment but thrive in their daily lives as well. If you or a loved one is currently struggling to regain control of your life and re indulging in self-harm, there are underlying emotions that need to be acknowledged and treated. Reach us immediately because help is just a phone call away.

About the author

Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at     

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