Almost up until she passed away at 103 (and a half) in 2017, Washington, D.C., caterer with a larger-than-life personality Mabel Sawhill was still taking to the road and driving herself around. It was only her last two years that she was off the road herself. Mabel represented a growing trend: Longer, fuller life and longer periods of mobility among seniors in the United States.
Like Mabel, many older Americans are maintaining a more active lifestyle postretirement, and many are fully capable of doing so, thanks in no small part to advances in medical technology. But there are still many hoops seniors must jump through as they get older and wish to maintain independence, especially when it comes to driving.
Why Do Senior Drivers Face License and Insurance Hurdles?
In its 2018 Older Americans Mobility Report, the nonprofit research organization TRIP found that the number of licensed seniors increased 38 percent in the past decade. Consequently, the number of older Americans (aged 65 or older) dying in car crashes increased 22 percent from 2012 to 2016.
Car insurance companies are not immune to the risks associated with older drivers. Across the country, seniors find their car insurance rates increasing as they get older. In fact, seniors can expect their car insurance rates to continue increasing, the older they get. Some car insurance companies may even charge those who are 60 years of age over 25 percent more than those who are 30 years old.
There’s no simple savings solution for seniors when it comes to increasing insurance rates, as all car insurance companies will utilize higher rates—seniors simply are statistically a higher risk than those between the ages of 30 and 59 years old. Additionally, many states impose license renewal tests for older drivers, which can include vision exams and a submission of medical and mental reports.
But there may be a solution.
Brain Games Can Improve Senior Memory and Reaction Times
A notable amount of aging science and research appears to point to brain games as a new way to help seniors maintain more mobility and mental acuity.
"Brain games" are mentally stimulating activities that are intended to help individuals practice complex thought and memory. One study released in early 2018 found that seniors who practiced using brain games were able to increase their auditory information processing speeds by 58 percent, and their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent. The study also found that those benefits lasted several months after the memory games.
These kinds of benefits can carry over positively for driving, where faster reaction times to situations can often mean the difference between a near miss and a fatal accident.
There are an increasing number of companies and software applications designed for brain game training. Even the AARP has a brain games section on its website to help seniors practice their memory and improve reaction times.
Can Brain Games Reduce Insurance Rates?
There is still a large amount of research going into the benefits of brain games on seniors. However, a number of studies showing positive results has proven to be a boon for seniors looking to reduce their insurance burden. The results are promising enough that some companies are paying attention and rewarding seniors who choose to incorporate brain games into their regular activities.
In California and other states, insurers including AAA have partnered with Point Sharp, a company that produces a brain training service focused on better driving habits. Point Sharp's results indicated a decrease in accidents among those who make brain games part of their routine, so these insurance companies now offer discounts to seniors who sign up to the brain training program.
Seniors trying to lower their car insurance rates may want to contact their current insurers to see if signing up for brain training programs can help lower rates.
Additional Benefits to Brain Games
The insurance benefit to brain games extends beyond just car insurance. Other insurance companies have begun to offer benefits for brain games and other types of health-related activities. Insurer John Hancock maintains a Vitality Program, for example, that helps keep insurance rates low for those who keep an active lifestyle. As the research into brain games and its benefits increases, more insurers are likely to offer benefits to seniors who decide to utilize brain training activities and services.
Beyond insurance, however, brain games may be a good way for seniors to stave off many troubling health risks. Some research even suggests that making brain training a daily activity can help improve the memory of those suffering from early signs of dementia and Alzheimers. Should such studies continue to produce results, it’s quite likely that brain games will not only be seen as a benefit to lowering insurance rates, but also to helping seniors maintain their independence and health later in life.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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