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By Tom Ripley
Playing a computer game to keep your driving skills sharp as you age seems like science fiction, but it is one of several activities gaining attention as the population ages and older drivers fill the roads. Doing things as diverse as eating fish, choosing more challenging hobbies and playing catch can help aging drivers retain and actually improve their driving abilities, not to mention their overall cognitive abilities.
One of the most interesting of these avenues to greater driving fitness is a clinically proven brain fitness training tool that helps older adults reduce their likelihood of being in a car accident. Playing the gamelike, computer-based program "DriveSharp" for 20 minutes a day three times a week helps older drivers cut their crash risk up to 50 percent, stop 22 feet sooner when driving 55 mph and gain more confidence while driving at night and in stressful conditions, according to The Hartford Financial Services Group, whose insurance arm has a vested interest in keeping drivers safe.
"It is important for drivers to understand that they can take an active role in staying safe on the road as they age," said Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist and assistant vice president of The Hartford. "We all have a responsibility to maintain our driving skills throughout our lifetime. "DriveSharp" is a research-based program that helps older adults think faster, focus better and react quicker on the road."
About half of all adults surveyed by The Hartford believe older drivers can improve their skills to allow them to safely drive for more years, but drivers under 40 are least likely to believe there is anything an older driver can do to improve their skills to allow them to drive safely longer. The brain fitness survey also found that while more than 60 percent of adults participate in an activity with the specific purpose of improving their brain, adults 60-plus are the most likely age group to say they often participate in activities with the specific purpose of improving their brain.
In addition to the "DriveSharp" program, there are other activities you can engage in -- most of them free -- that can help you maintain and improve your mental fitness to perform critical tasks like driving:
10 Brain Fitness Tips
1. Eat dark chocolate
When you eat dark chocolate, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical that improves overall brain function and improves your memory.
2. Eat fish
Studies suggest that a diet rich in fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, can improve brain function.
3. Play ball
Throwing a ball up in the air and catching it, or better yet, trying your hand at juggling can improve your hand-eye coordination and has widespread brain health benefits.
4. Rest up
Getting a good night's sleep is critical to brain function and particularly memory.
5. Make your hobbies harder
Take on something a bit more difficult than you're used to. By putting higher demands on your brain, you will have to concentrate harder and re-engage your brain's learning ability.
6. Walk on a rocky road
Scientists believe that walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestones improves the vestibular system of the inner ear, which plays a central role in balance and equilibrium and translates to better balance.
7. Visit a museum
Go on a guided tour and pay very careful attention to what you see and hear. When you get home, write an outline of the tour that includes every detail you remember. Paying attention and practicing remembering can help the brain pump brain chemicals that assist memory and improve brain function.
8. Exercise your brain
Use brain fitness exercises like "DriveSharp" -- they promote drivers' ability to think faster, focus better and react faster. (The "DriveSharp" program is available at a discount from The Hartford.)
9. Learn to play a new instrument
Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movement and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound).
10. Use your other hand
While you may find it difficult at first, practicing an activity such as brushing your teeth with your subordinate hand can drive your brain to make positive changes.
Tom Ripley Rapidly aging Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition -- and where they intersect -- from his home in Villeperce, France.
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