What Does Drawing Clocks Have to Do With Driving Cars?

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The majority of baby boomers have now reached the age of 65 and will become the largest segment of licensed drivers in Canada. Most baby boomers love their cars and the independence that driving offers. But as we age, certain health issues can pose a threat to our safety on the road.

Driving is a complex task that involves many different skills and body functions. To drive safely we need to integrate our visual, cognitive, physical and perceptual skills. As we get older, we are more likely to develop health conditions that can impair these skills and this can negatively affect our driving ability.

In Ontario alone, the number of drivers with dementia is expected to double in the next few years. That’s why screening tools are needed by health professionals and licensing personnel that can help to identify medically at-risk drivers.

These screening tests can help to identify older drivers with cognitive problems. Currently, there is no single test that has been developed that can determine if a driver is ‘cognitively-unfit’. However, there is evidence that assessment tools can flag those drivers who require a more in-depth evaluation. The Clock-Drawing Test is one example of such a tool.

There is scientific evidence that not being able to perform a seemingly quick and simple task, such as drawing a clock, is linked to a person’s ability to drive a car. Drawing a clock is actually considered to be a brain task that requires a higher level of brain function. The Clock-Drawing Test can indicate deficits related to your visual perception. As well, the Clock-Drawing Test can identify problems with short term memory and planning. There are a number of valid scoring methods for the Clock-Drawing Test that include the order, spacing and placement of the numbers and clock hands. The person being assessed is usually asked to draw a certain time on the clock, which is scored in terms of accuracy.

It’s important to note that the Clock-Drawing Test was not developed for the specific purpose of evaluating driving in seniors. However, the research shows that the Clock-Drawing Test is a quick and easy way to identify drivers who may be experiencing cognitive changes.  Performance on the Clock-Drawing Test alone is not sufficient to revoke a person’s license. Researchers have suggested that this test, alongside other screening mechanisms, be used as part of a first step when assessing fitness to drive in older adults. In fact, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has recently instituted a version of the Clock-Drawing Test as part of its Senior Driver Renewal Program that targets drivers aged 80 and older.

If you know someone who might be an at-risk driver, consider the Clock-Drawing Test as a tool to help identify potential cognitive issues.

This article is an excerpt from a blog post featured on the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal – a free website developed by McMaster University to provide older adults with high-quality health information to help them age well.

For more evidence-based healthy aging information visit www.mcmasteroptialagingportal.org

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