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Age-related cognitive decline and wayfinding whilst driving in unfamiliar areas
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posted on 22.02.2017by Bryden, Kelly Jane
Finding one’s way (‘wayfinding’) whilst driving in unfamiliar areas is a complex activity. The dual tasks of wayfinding and driving simultaneously may lead to driving performance decrements, as many cognitive resources are required to perform both the components required for navigation as well as manage those required for safe driving. Older drivers with age-related cognitive decline may have particular difficulty with the extra cognitive demands associated with wayfinding.
The main aims of this thesis were 1) to examine how ageing and cognitive functioning impact wayfinding ability whilst driving; and 2) to investigate aspects of performance, usability, acceptability and acceptance issues for selected wayfinding strategies to assist with wayfinding whilst driving. This thesis was submitted by publication and included three research studies reported in five journal articles.
The first study included a mail-out survey completed by drivers aged 65 years and over (n=534) and their main driving companions (n=194). The survey covered self-reported wayfinding ability, use of wayfinding strategies, passenger assistance and acceptability of electronic navigation systems.
In the second study forty-seven participants aged between 21-82 years (47% aged over 65 years) completed a self-directed wayfinding task on a driving simulator whilst using a paper map. Wayfinding and driving performance variables were examined and the role of age and objective measures of cognitive functioning were studied. A sub-set of participants (n=27; aged 32-82 years) in this study completed an additional driving simulator wayfinding task, directed by their regular passenger. Wayfinding and driving performance variables during passenger collaboration were compared with performance for the self-directed task.
The third study involved a sample of older drivers aged 65 years and over (n=20) who participated in a trial of a GPS in their own cars. Participants completed surveys about their acceptance of the technology and barriers to use.
The combined results of the studies suggest that wayfinding whilst driving is difficult and associated with driving performance decrements for some older drivers, particularly those with age-related cognitive decline. Older drivers with perceived wayfinding difficulties are more likely to use and be willing to use compensatory measures to assist with wayfinding. The studies demonstrated several benefits of passenger-assisted wayfinding, including reduced distraction caused by looking at wayfinding materials and fewer compensatory actions such as slowing down and stopping. While there was no clear evidence of a safety benefit, importantly, there were no detrimental effects on other driving performance variables. The benefits of passenger assistance were greater for older drivers with poorer cognitive abilities. While many older drivers reported being willing to use navigation systems in the future, for others, perceived need and performance issues were potential barriers to acceptance.
This study provided several new insights into the reported wayfinding behaviour of older drivers, as well as their use of compensatory strategies. The relationships between age, cognitive performance and wayfinding were investigated under conditions more closely related to the actual wayfinding experiences of older drivers than in previous research. The research reported in this thesis highlights the need for further investigation of driving and wayfinding difficulties and potential strategies to ensure the safety and mobility of older drivers.