Glenyth Caragata wants to improve communication between older drivers, their families, and medical practitioners.

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Study makes inroads on understanding older drivers’ needs

June 05, 2017
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By Marianne Meadahl

Glenyth Caragata’s interest in how older adults make their driving decisions was a natural avenue for her graduate studies. The SFU PhD student had watched her own father struggle with behavioral changes associated with progressing Alzheimer’s disease, which were affecting his driving.

As an employee at the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC), her evaluation of an older-driver education program revealed that little is known about seniors’ decision-making experiences behind the wheel.

To learn more, Caragata carried out interviews with 37 healthy drivers between 70-96 years of age in a three-part study. To understand how seniors evaluate risk, participants were asked to sort photos related to driving. They read imaginary scenarios to show how they decide whether or not to drive. And they also reacted to statements that family members made about driving, giving clues to how these influenced their thinking.

“It soon became evident that men and women make decisions very differently,” says Caragata, who graduates on June 7. She is the first student to complete SFU’s new gerontology doctoral program.

“Most women put importance on the reason for the trip, especially if it had a social impact. Men didn’t share this motivation to drive. Men were more likely to judge if conditions were good enough to make driving enjoyable, whereas women considered driving primarily as a tool.”

She found drivers also interpreted information differently. One used sunny weather as a reason to drive, another used it as a reason not to do so. Drivers also changed how they interpreted information, depending on other conditions in the scenario and their motivation to drive. For example, in one instance they interpreted that a doctor’s warning meant to abstain from driving, while at another time, they rationalized it was fine to proceed, since a warning wasn’t a demand to stop.

“Understanding how people evaluate risk and how they use information to make decisions can help us to design programs that improve their choices in making safety decisions,” says Caragata, who intends to publish her findings.

She will continue to investigate how to teach drivers to adequately evaluate risk, and develop new ways to improve communications between drivers, families and medical practitioners to support aging adults’ transportation needs.