Recent projections on European demographics indicate that the French population is expected to reach in 2050 nearly 70 million people. One third of the population will be over 60, while currently this ratio is 1/5. This ageing of the population is less marked than in most other European countries, but the impact on the social and economic impact will be relevant.
Several studies have identified physical, sensory and cognitive factors associated with difficulties facing the elderly in driving. The lowering of visual acuity as well as loss of visual field in ageing are the main sensory factors leading to a decrease in driving skills. Therefore, these trends present potential dangerous consequences and risks related to safety risks for road users.
The main objective of the study was to determine if, by overcoming spatial memory difficulties by cognitive strategies, senior drivers can improve their driving performance. The problem was addressed by means of two studies on the CI2N driving simulator.
Study I aimed to determine firstly, if it can be improved in a senior spatial memory by proposing a cognitive encoding strategy (called explicit), and on the other hand, if such an effective strategy on memory performance has an impact on driving.
Study II aimed to benefit from the results of Study I, developing in collaboration with Renault SA a mapping system to facilitate memorizing a route with seniors.
Seventy senior drivers (over 60 years) and 30 young drivers (aged 18-30 years) participated in study I consisting of two phases:
- Learning phase: Join a specific point in an urban route following road signs. Participants realized this track 3 times to memorize it.
- Test phase: Take the same route in reverse: memory test. In this stage, lack of road signage.
Seventy senior drivers (over 60 years) participated in Study II. The task simulator proposed to the participants was to make a journey in an urban environment, after memorizing the route presented in diagrammatic form.
The results confirm that older drivers have more difficulty than young drivers to memorize their road environment. However, if older drivers follow a cognitive encoding strategy, their memory performance is equivalent to that of younger subjects. Moreover, this improvement in spatial memory induced by cognitive strategy improved performance conduct of senior motorists.
The results of this study show no efficacy of the tested mapping system. Using a GPS system remains in our view the only current solution to help senior drivers to navigate in new environments as they move into driving. However, we suggest that reflection should be conducted on the adaptation of these GPS systems to cognitive impairments associated with aging. In particular, consideration could be given to develop a system delivering only auditory information, including both leadership indices, but also information on the salient landmarks punctuating the path to achieve.