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Could self-driving cars be in senior living's future?

January 7, 2014

Google has been testing self-driving cars on the road for several months, and while their apparent success speaks to the rapid evolution of technology, it may also have an impact on senior living. A recent study from the RAND Corporation found that autonomous cars could offer increased mobility to elderly individuals, and while there are certainly benefits, the study also raised some questions.

To measure the potential impact of self-driving cars, researchers conducted interviews with everyone from automobile manufacturers and tech companies to social planners. What they found was that the use of self-driving cars would likely reduce the mortality risk among motorists while also decreasing fuel consumption and costs. However, it will be difficult for manufacturers and policymakers to implement autonomous automobiles. In fact, only a handful of states - Nevada, Florida, California and Minnesota - have laws in place.

"Our research finds that the social benefits of autonomous vehicles - including decreased crashes, increased mobility and increases in fuel economy - will outweigh the likely disadvantages," said lead author James Anderson.

Of course, it will be quite some time until self-driving cars become a routine part of senior living, but the study does highlight the important role that mobility and social engagement play in healthy aging. In fact, a recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham showed just how true that is. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and based on an extensive review of trials that have been conducted over the course of the last 27 years, concluded that a seniors' mobility is often an accurate indication of whether they were at risk for functional decline.