Brain patterns reveal why elderly drivers misfire on the brake pedal

Summary: Older adults have longer reaction times, slower decision times, and greater activation in areas of the brain that are involved in inhibition and task switching. The results may shed light on why many older drivers mistake the accelerator and brake pedals.

source: Nagoya University

By scanning the brains of elderly people and college students while running simulations of braking and acceleration, researchers in Japan found that older participants had longer reaction times, slower decision times, and greater brain activation in the parts of the brain involved in inhibition and switching.

These findings suggest insight into the causes of accidents involving elderly drivers who misuse the brakes and accelerator.

As reported in the media, accidents have increased as older drivers mistakenly step on the accelerator pedal instead of the brakes.

Concerned that cognitive decline may be a major cause of such incidents, the Japan National Police Agency, a country with one of the world’s oldest populations, is requiring adults over the age of 75 to take periodic cognitive tests.

However, few studies have investigated executive function and brain activity among older adults in terms of foot responses during braking and acceleration.

To address this gap, a group led by Professor Nobuyuki Kawai of the Graduate School of Informatics at Nagoya University in Japan scanned the brains of elderly and students while performing simulations of pedal pressure.

The researchers were particularly interested in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with inhibition and switching responses.

To simulate the response of a person’s feet and hands when driving a car, they created a new task in the lab called the two-foot-walk response selection and response position alignment task. During this task, the participants’ cue was directed to press the left or right button with their left or right foot, or with their left or right hand.

Sometimes the participants would depress the pedal in front of them, while at other times they had to depress it diagonally. This was done to allow researchers to assess how participants responded in situations where the cognitive load is higher.

The researchers administered this task to both college students and elderly participants, and then monitored the blood flow in their brains.

The results have been published in Behavioral Brain Research.

They found that older participants had longer reaction times, slower decision times, and greater brain activation than younger ones. Furthermore, diagonal pedal pressure requires longer reaction times and greater brain activation than pressing directly forward in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Interestingly, this was only found when people were asked to use their feet and not their hands. In short, the elderly had to do more active thinking than the young when deciding which “pedal” to press with their feet.

“This indicates that the cognitive load is higher when the pedal is pushed diagonally with the foot, as it is when the brakes are applied,” explains Professor Kauai.

This indicates a foot on the fracture pedal
The study found that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (yellow) showed greater activity when pressing the pedal diagonally with the foot, compared to pressing the pedal straight. Credit: Dr. Nobuyuki Kawai, Rikko Matsushita

“When you press a diagonal pedal with your foot, you are using the frontal lobe more than you do when you are pressing the pedal straight forward. In particular, the left dorsolateral frontal lobe, which is important for switching response, is more active when the foot is pressed at an angle than when you press On the pedal straight.

“On these tasks, older adults have higher neural activity throughout the frontal lobe than college students.”

The results of this study suggest that to compensate for the decline in cognitive function, greater brain activation may be necessary in older adults. Older adults may struggle in situations that carry a high cognitive load, such as parking in a confined space.

“This study suggests that older adults perform poorly in these situations,” explains Professor Kauai.

“Old drivers should not be confident that they are driving well. Even older people who are usually able to drive without any problems, when a cognitive load is applied, such as switching from one parking space to another or when talking to a passenger, may Things are different and there is an opportunity to hit the wrong pedal. We think it is important to make elderly drivers aware of this fact.”

Financing: This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI.

see also

This is a cartoon of a woman holding her head in pain and crying

About this research in Neuroscience News

author: Matthew Coslett
source: Nagoya University
Contact: Matthew Coslet – Nagoya University
picture: The image is attributed to Dr. Nobuyuki Kawai and Rikko Matsushita

original search: open access.
Do seniors mistake the gas pedal for the brake pedal?Written by Nobuyuki Kawai et al. behavioral brain research


Do seniors mistake the gas pedal for the brake pedal?

Successful aging depends on preservation of executive functions, which allows flexible response coordination. Although flexible responses are required for both hands and feet, as in driving, few studies have examined executive functions and brain activity in the elderly, in terms of foot responses.

In this study, younger (mean age = 20.8) and older (mean age = 68.7) participants performed a newly developed bipedal/bipedal response locus selection matching task while we measured their brain activity using functional infrared spectroscopy.

Participants had to press either a left or right button using their left or right foot (or hand), according to the directions of a 2D cue. They implemented either a straight or a diagonal pressure response that simulated the pressure on the car’s accelerator or brake pedal. Foot responses produced more errors, longer reaction times, and greater brain activation than hand responses.

Greater brain activation was observed in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 46) in contrast (that is, diagonal) compared to congruent (straight) trials of foot responses, but not of hand responses, indicating that participants had difficulty implementing a diagonal response of the foot (as a brake in a car). ), but not the manual diagonal response.

Older participants showed greater brain activity via the PFC than younger participants, suggesting that the elderly activate additional brain circuits to compensate for the deterioration of executive functions.

We discuss possible relationships between the decline in executive function of older adults and the frequent motor vehicle accidents (that is, missteps) in which they participate.

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