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an older adult driving

Frank Knoefel, MD: “Driving automation could become the assistive device of the future”


Investigators from the Bruyère Research Institute and Carleton University are asking the question: What can autonomous cars do for older adults?

As they describe in a recent commentary, the possibilities are near limitless—especially when it comes to helping people with cognitive decline. Autonomous cars could play vital role in helping them remain independent and reduce social isolation.

“When older adults lose their drivers’ license, the resulting decrease in social activities can lead to depression and worsening Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” says Frank Knoefel, MD, the lead author on the article. “This is why it is imperative to keep older adults on the move for as long as possible.”

The problem is that cognitive decline eventually affects an older person’s ability to drive safely. This is usually tested through a series of paper-based tests in a clinician’s office or by an on-road test. Currently there are only two possible outcomes: the older adult keeps their license, or they don’t.

What if autonomous vehicles can fill the gaps in a person’s driving ability as they age?

The article highlights the relationship between the changes in driving ability with changing cognition and how current technology could impact these. If designed with the older adult in mind, the cars of the future may be able to decrease high risk activities, such as drifting between lanes.

If the design of the future smart car includes input from older adults and health care researchers with expertise in aging, Frank thinks driving retirement for older adults with cognitive decline could be delayed.

Read the full paper.


Knoefel, F., Wallace, B., Goubran, R., Sabra, I., & Marshall, S. (2019). Semi-Autonomous Vehicles as a Cognitive Assistive Device for Older Adults. Geriatrics, 4(4), 63. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/geriatrics4040063