Wheels in Motion of understanding Elderly Depression

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The heightened awareness of backdrops against which the objects on the road are moving whilst driving has been determined as the likely reason for poor elderly driving performance. This is as opposed to the belief that it is worsening sight alone that is responsible. The consequences of this realisation are many, and may provide a pathway to understanding the reasoning for the onset of depression in the elderly.

The cause of this phenomenon has been isolated by a team of scientists led by University of Rochester Assistant Professor Duje Tadin.  The results are surprising and may assist in the training of older drivers to be better ones altogether.

Not only this, but the study will also serve to aid psychiatrists in understanding the brain processes of the elderly that are seen as abnormal. Such ‘abnormalities are present when psychological conditions like schizophrenia and depression are evident. The minds of young and older human-beings have a range of differences. In a healthy and young brain there is an active suppression of the background motion whilst driving within the temporal visual area. This allows for concentration on the motions of the actual objects that need to be taken into account whilst driving.

The elderly brain however does not bring about the same suppression of data. This is evident in the healthy older brain, and also in the brain that is affected by illness like depression and schizophrenia. As there are a limited amount of resources available to the brain for functions, the use of the cognitive abilities by the elderly in dealing with the unnecessary background leads to a deteriorated driving ability.

“The amount of visual information around us is huge, and we don’t have the brain power to process it all,” Dr Tadin the key researcher in the new study stated. “Evolutionarily speaking, moving objects are the most important visual features to detect quickly, because they could be your lunch, or they could want to eat you for lunch. It just makes sense that our vision prioritizes processing them.”

The researchers have determined what was responsible for the worsened driving by using Transcranial Magnetic stimulation; this sees magnetic coils placed on the subject’s head. Once in place an electric signal is sent through the nodes into the brain for 15 minutes. This inhibits the brain function temporarily. They used the activity or non activity caused by the turning on and off this stimulus to determine the ability of the patients both elderly and of youth, with their ability to process what they saw and how they saw it.

They used a computer program in the process as opposed to having the individuals drive the highways and byways with electrical nodes attached to their heads.

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