Stereotypes about Aging: Older Adults and Driving by Kayla Sapakoff

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Stereotypes exist about all groups of people. One group in particular, older adults, has been subject to numerous stereotypes throughout the course of history. Some of the stereotypes that have been placed upon older adults may or may not have a lot of validity, even though they can be hurtful. Because of this, researchers have conducted a great deal of research on the various generalizations that have been made about the group. For instance, there is a wealth of research about the stereotype that suggests that older adults are bad drivers.

Researchers have suggested in a study that there are factors that may foretell bad driving in older adults (Dawson, Uc, Anderson, Johnson, and Rizzo, 2010). The purpose of one study was to figure out which “neuropsychological factors” could be correlated with bad driving performances by older adults (Dawson, et al., 2010). The study used cross-sectional data from older adults as well as adults in middle adulthood to compare driving performance (Dawson, et al., 2010). The independent variable was how old participants and their various neuropsychological skills (Dawson, et al., 2010). The dependent variable was the numbers of mistakes made by participants of the study while driving (Dawson, et al., 2010). The results of the study showed that the older adults did not perform as well while driving (Dawson, et al., 2010). This data led to the conclusion that there is a positive correlation between older age and number of mistakes made while driving a vehicle (Dawson, et al., 2010). This research supports the stereotype that older adults are bad drivers because it provides evidence that shows that the quality of driving is worse as individuals reach older adulthood (Dawson, et al., 2010).

Another study that helps to explore the stereotype about older adult driving does so through its discussion of “sensory impairment in older adults” (Correia, et al., 2016). The study’s purpose was to find out how widespread sensory deficiency is with older adults, referring to the five senses (Correia, et al., 2016). The independent variable was the age of the participants, and the dependent variable was the sensory deficits experienced by those individuals (Correia, et al., 2016). The results of the study showed that overwhelmingly, older adults have sensory deficits in at least one of the senses, and furthermore, a great deal of older adults experience deficits in multiple sense (Correia, et al., 2016). These results lead researchers to the conclusion that it is very common for older adults to be experiencing declines in their senses (Correia, et al., 2016). After analyzing the research about the decline in sensory skills in older adults, it is very easy to connect this evidence to the stereotype that older adults are bad drivers. Driving involves the senses. If older adults are experiencing declines in their senses (Correia, et al., 2016), than it would not be out of the question to assume that because of this sensory decline, older adults will also be unsafe in a vehicle, and therefore be bad drivers. The study supports the stereotype that older adults are bad drivers because it states that older adults are seeing declines in their senses (Correia, et al., 2016), which need to be functioning well for a driver to be a safe driver.

In another study, researchers have suggested that stereotypes have great implications on people when they are completing tasks (Lambert, et al., 2015). It is important to understand that that individuals can be negatively or positively impacted by the onset of stereotypes, however, in many cases, stereotypes are quite negative (Lambert, et al., 2015). The idea that having knowledge of the stereotypes being placed up on us can manipulate our behavior is referred to as “stereotype threat” (Lambert et al., 2015). One group that has been found to be susceptible to this threat are older adults (Lambert et al., 2015). The purpose of this particular study was to determine whether stereotype threat is impacting the driving of older adults in a negative way (Lambert, et al., 2015). The study was conducted by gathering a group of older adults with memory problems and evaluating their various driving abilities (Lambert, et al.. 2015). There was a group of older adults who were exposed to the stereotype threat and these older adults were evaluated against a group that was not exposed to the stereotype (Lambert, et al., 2015). The independent variable was the knowledge, or lack of knowledge of the stereotype that older adults are bad drivers (Lambert, et al., 2015). The dependent variable was how well the older adults performed (Lambert, et al., 2015). After the research was conducted, the researched were of the opinion that stereotype threat impacts older adults driving abilities in a negative way, based on the poorer driving outcomes of the group of older adults who were exposed to the stereotype (Lambert, et al., 2015). This study supports the stereotype that older adults are worse at driving than younger individuals (Lambert, e al., 2015). But, the study also supports the idea that older adults may be worse at driving due to the fact that they lack a lot of confidence when it comes to driving (Lambert, et al., 2015). It is hard to determine whether stereotype threat is responsible for bad driving, or if the older adults in the world are bad at driving because they are old. It is likely, and it is suggested in the research, that poorer driving by older adults is caused by their old age as well as stereotype threat (Lambert, et al., 2015). This is very important research because it shows that people should not perpetuate stereotypes due to their ability to negatively affect outcomes and behaviors (Lambert, et al., 2015).

Finally, there was a study that discussed how individuals could predict the driving behaviors and quality of the driving done by older adults with cognitive delays (Ross, Scialfa, and Cordazzo, 2015). Various examinations were performed on older adults in this study (Ross, et al., 2015). The independent variable was which assessment the older adult was being subjected to and the dependent variable in this study was how well each test could predict the quality of driving by that same older adult (Ross, et al., 2015). The study found that the tests were helpful in determining the quality of the older adults driving, however, it was most easy to predict driving behavior when all the test results were taken into account as a whole (Ross, et al., 2015). The conclusion of the researchers was that there must be further investigation on older drivers and cognitive declines (Ross, et al., 2015). The conclusion of the study does not exactly support or refute the stereotype that older adults are bad drivers (Ross, et al., 2015). While the study does raise a lot of concern for older drivers and their behavior while on the road, it never actually concludes that older adults are bad drivers (Ross, et al., 2015). The study really suggests that there needs to be more research and testing done on older adults so that it will become easier for individuals to know when older adults should stop driving due to declines in cognitive abilities (Ross, et al., 2015).

Stereotypes can be very negative and offensive, however, sometimes they hold a great deal of truth and are worth being investigated. The stereotype that older adults are bad drivers is certainly offensive to older adults, however, research has shown that older adults become less skilled at driving the older they get due to the declines that they experience in their sensory (Correia et al., 2016) and cognitive skills (Ross, et al., 2015) as they age. It is true that not all older adults are the same, and many of them do not experience such declines as rapidly as others. Because of this, there needs to be a way for older adults to be tested so that it can be determined whether they should still be driving (Ross et al., 2015).

References

Correia, C., Lopez, K. J., Wroblewski, K. E., Huisingh-Scheetz, M., Kern, D. W., Chen, R. C., &

Pinto, J. M. (2016). Global sensory impairment in older adults in the United States. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 64(2), 306-313. doi:10.1111/jgs.13955

Dawson, J. D., Uc, E. Y., Anderson, S. W., Johnson, A. M., & Rizzo, M. (2010)

Neuropsychological predictors of driving errors in older adults. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 58(6), 1090-1096. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02872.x

Lambert, A. E., Watson, J. M., Stefanucci, J. K., Ward, N., Bakdash, J. Z., & Strayer, D. L.

(2016). Stereotype threat impairs older adult driving. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30(1), 22-28. doi:10.1002/acp.3162

Ross, R. W., Scialfa, C. T., & Cordazzo, S. D. (2015). Predicting on-road driving performance

and safety in cognitively impaired older adults. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society,63(11), 2365-2369. doi:10.1111/jgs.13712

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