Automated Vehicles for People Living with Dementia

Categories: Need to Know, Research, Technology|By |Published On: |

Exploring the potential through an AGE-WELL study.

This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.

Independent driving relates to older adults’ sense of identity and autonomy, which has even been dubbed as an “asphalt identikit,” which allows individuals to maintain a non-age-related identity. During the same decade when the theory of “asphalt identikit” was created, automated vehicle technologies were being pursued by major companies and research organizations that could ultimately change the nature of who and how we drive.

Automated vehicles are thought to have the potential to not only provide significant benefits to older adults in sustaining their driving mobility, but also to increase road safety for everyone. By 2025, more than 40% of all fatal crashes are projected to be due to age-related frailties, with cognitive impairments among the major contributing factors. Compared to other medical reasons for older adults’ driving cessation, cognitive impairments, and more specifically dementia, pose a unique challenge, partly due to dementia’s progressive nature and many different types of dementia.

Photo courtesy of AGE-WELL.

Motivated by the potential benefits of automated vehicles for people living with dementia, an AGE-WELL-supported collaborative study is taking a first step towards clarifying the true potential of automated vehicles for people with dementia. The study partners with the University of Toronto, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI), Baycrest Health Sciences, and Sunnybrook Health Sciences. Researchers are using a state-of-the-art driving simulator in TRI to provide individuals living with dementia with an experience of simulated and automated vehicle driving.

In this study, participants experience what the industry expects to be the “next generation” of automated vehicles. These types of automated vehicles, often known as Conditionally Automated Vehicles, have an operational limit. The driver or older adult is expected to promptly take over driving control when this limit is reached. The take-over task introduced in such vehicles is an entirely new addition to a driver’s set of responsibilities. With the lack of literature on this topic, it is not yet clear whether people living with various levels/types of cognitive impairment can safely perform the take-over task.

The previous phase of the study has revealed associations between the cognitive abilities of healthy older adults and their take-over performance in the simulated automated vehicle. In the ongoing phase, the study is testing the same associations among people with dementia and people living with cognitive impairments. As such, this study is currently recruiting for people living with mild dementia and mild cognitive impairments where the participants complete a set of cognitive tests and automated driving sessions at KITE Research Institute at TRI, University Health Network. The results of this study aim to inform guidelines around the safe use of automated vehicles for people living with dementia to extend their safe driving period.


Read more about DriverLab research.

Explore more AGE-WELL research initiatives online or send an email for more information.


Shabnam Haghzare is a PhD graduate from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at University of Toronto. Her PhD projects focused on finding ways to align automated vehicles to the preferences and capabilities of older adults living with and/or without dementia.

This research project is supported by AGE-WELL NCE (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.), Canada’s technology and aging network, which is dedicated to the creation of technologies and services that benefit older adults and caregivers.