Older adults who participate in cognitive “speed of processing” training can prevent the decline of their driving skills, according to new research published in the Gerontological Society of America’s Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Such training improves the brain’s processing speed and how the mind reacts when attention is divided, according to a researcher from the University of South Florida, Tampa, and colleagues from several other universities.

“For those older adults who had experienced some slowing in their ability to process information, more training sessions increased their driving frequency among other behaviors related to maintained driving mobility,” said study co-author Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., an associate professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.

The training uses a computerized, adaptive cognitive intervention designed to increase the speed at which participants can accurately decipher increasingly complex information. Tasks required combinations of visual and auditory target identification, discrimination and localization.

“Our results show that greater amounts of speed of processing training —  larger ‘doses’ — prolonged some measures of driving mobility for at-risk older adults with poor baseline processing speed,” Edwards said. “Given the importance of driving for older adult well-being and independence, these findings are noteworthy.”

Driving frequency was the “most robust” outcome, meaning that speed of processing training enabled participants to drive more often in a given week than they had previously done.

“Ours is the first study to show that speed of processing training can improve driving mobility across a five-year period,” Edwards said. “It also highlighted the importance of ‘dosage,’ the number of training sessions received. Further research should look at the exact amount of training needed to maintain driving mobility among older adults who are at-risk for driving cessation or reduced driving mobility.”