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Fit to drive at any age

June 11, 2007|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

OLDER drivers aren't always the best drivers. As mental acuity and vision decline, so does the ability to maneuver a car properly. But being in good physical shape could lead to better skills.

Researchers put 90 men and women age 70 and older through weekly workouts that included leg lifts, head and neck rotations, and grip strength exercises. Each activity related to some aspect of driving, such as moving from the brake to the gas pedal, or swiveling around to check a blind spot. The study participants repeated the exercises daily for 15 minutes.

A control group of 88 people, also 70 and older, did not exercise. Both groups took part in a home-based education program on home safety, fall prevention and vehicle care.

Both groups also took a standard driving test at the beginning and the end of the study. The exercise intervention group scored 2.5 points higher overall than the control group, and committed 37% fewer critical errors in such areas as paying attention to signals and traffic signs, and changing lanes. Total scores ranged from zero (worst) to 72 (best).

While cognitive and visual abilities are important, physical capabilities "have the most potential for intervention," says Dr. Richard Marottoli, associate professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, and lead author of the study in May's Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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jeannine.stein@latimes.com

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