In a January 30th article in the Journal of Gerontology, a very distinguished University of South Florida team led by Dr. Jerri Edwards reported rather astonishing findings on the value of retaining your driving license at an older age. Their approach was to match a large population of individuals using a variety of general health and cognitive fitness measures, distinguishing them by a single factor at a given point in life (the beginning of this study):

Were they still driving — or had they abandoned their car because of considerations of safety?

Once identified, these two populations were then tracked forward over a 3-year period, in an attempt to determine the impacts of driving cessation.

The outcome? In the automobile-based society of South Florida, abandoning driving resulted in an astonishing 4 to 6 times greater probability of an individual DYING over the next three years.

How on earth can we account for a difference of this magnitude? How COULD driving be SO important for a person’s general health? Does this mean that if I’m housebound or car-less for other completely unavoidable reasons, I’m doomed?!

There are three very important messages that can be taken from this study:

FIRST, in the absence of driving, what the average Jane or Joe is doing in the comfort of their own home is just not enough to sustain their brain, or their general health. The couch potato life in an environment in which everything is in its place and life is virtually devoid of surprises is just not enough for body and brain. Our brains and bodies have been constructed for ACTION. Passivity just doesn’t cut it!

Of course being housebound is often not voluntary. In that event, it is absolutely crucial that you ‘bring the action’ (all of those ‘kinds’ of things that your car can take you to) into your house! Posit Science’s training programs represent one of a series of things that you can do to liven up your life and brain. I’ll write more ‘Advice for the House-Bound, for Sustaining your Mental and Physical Health’ in a later blog.

SECOND, the kind of action that requires you to really engage the frontal lobes of your brain (life’s natural anti-depressant medicine) and to challenge you in ways that engage the learning brain are substantially out in the world, away from the physically and mentally non-challenging environment that most people have created in your homes. In the natural life of we humans, home (our nest) is organized so that we can rest from (avoid) the challenges of the unpredictable world. We modern humans have done an astoundingly effective job of eliminating almost any necessity to use our brains or bodies in any significantly challenging way in our nests. It’s not all for the good, Sally! Oh, and Fred, I hear you saying that you’re still really engaged at home, ‘learning lots of important new things just by watching your television 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 hours every day’. For which the total mental or physical action demanded from you over this time is pretty close to zero!

THIRD, the majority of individuals lose their ability to drive because their visual abilities and the fast visual judgment and driving response required for your safety slowly deteriorate. THOSE LOSSES IN YOUR VISUAL AND MOTOR RESPONSE ABILITIES CRUCIAL FOR SAFE DRIVING CAN BE QUITE EASILY OVERCOME in most older individuals. We’ve embodied proven strategies for achieving recovery of these abilities in our InSight training program (see www.positscience.com). Developed initially by Karlene Ball and Dan Ronker (professors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Western Kentucky), visual training using the InSight strategies have been demonstrated to:

a) substantially extend the period over which an older individual can sustain their driver’s license (which in this study equates with sustaining their life!);

b) increase the average number of times you drive/week;

c) result in longer average driving distances;

d) increasing your willingness to drive when conditions are not ideal, as in the darkness or rain or ice or snow (placeholders for ‘more confident driving’);

e) very substantially decrease crash risks (more than 10-fold reductions are recorded at an intersection, when someone that might hit you or that you might hit is coming at you from a cross street); and

f) accident rate (which is roughly cut in half).

For the life of me (YOU), it is very hard for me to understand why you would not be working to assure that your driving abilities are sustained, in tip-top shape! If you’re puzzled about how to achieve that, check out InSight training, at www.brainhq.com.