A new study in the United Kingdom revealed that people over 65 years old are less secure while driving as their eyesight causes them to react three times more slowly when distracted compared to people aged 18 to 30 years old.
Researchers from Nottingham Trent University assessed elderly people aged 65 to 84 years old in three different trials. First, the researchers asked the participants to remember the visual location of an object on a computer screen before it vanished. The participants had reacted well.
Afterwards, when four additional objects were placed on the screen as a distraction, the participants became slower in distinguishing the location of the original object. Lastly, the third trial involved two objects appearing at the same time and the participants were asked to distinguish which one was the original object.
In a study published in the Journal of Vision, researchers concluded that people's ability to process visual information declines as their age increases. Therefore, the findings greatly affect elderly people especially in everyday situations such as driving, the study said.
"The difference in task demands of having to remember two items rather than one seems small, yet this led to a large slowing in processing speed for older people," explained Dr. Duncan Guest, lead researcher and psychologist from the university.
Guest said that because drivers are required to search visual scenes for road signs and buildings and simultaneously process information regarding possible road hazards and the presence of other vehicles, elderly people will experience significant decline in processing these objects.
In the U.K., there is no law prohibiting elderly people from driving, but they are required to renew their driver's license every three years when they turn 70 years old to ensure that they are still capable of driving safely.
Researchers hope that their findings will contribute to the development of methods that will help elderly people process visual information.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were more than 36 million registered drivers who are aged 65 years old and above in the United States in 2012. Of these, 5,560 people were killed during a car accident and 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes.
The CDC suggests that elderly people should not drive at night and during bad weather. Elderly people should also exercise regularly to increase their flexibility, and visit an eye doctor at least once a year.
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