To determine the extent to which cognitive domain scores moderate change in driving behavior in cognitively healthy older adults using naturalistic (GPS based) driving outcomes and to compare against self-reported outcomes using an established driving questionnaire.
We analyzed longitudinal naturalistic driving behavior from a sample (N = 161, 45% female, Mean age = 74.7 years, Mean education = 16.5 years) of cognitively healthy, non-demented older adults. Composite driving variables were formed that indexed “driving space” and “driving performance”. All participants completed a baseline comprehensive cognitive assessment that measured multiple domains as well as an annual self-reported driving outcomes questionnaire.
Across an average of 24 months of naturalistic driving, our results showed that attentional control, broadly defined as the ability to focus on relevant aspects of the environment and ignore distracting or competing information as measured behaviorally with tasks such as the Stroop color naming test, moderated change in driving space scores over time. Specifically, individuals with lower attentional control scores drove fewer trips per month, drove less at night, visited fewer unique locations, and drove in smaller spaces than those with higher attentional control scores. No cognitive domain predicted driving performance such as hard braking or sudden acceleration.
Attentional control is a key moderator of change over time in driving space but not driving performance in older adults. We speculate on mechanisms that may relate attentional control ability to modifications of driving behaviors.