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Driving simulator helps UTPA faculty member study reflexes
Posted: 07/13/2011
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Dr. Mike Bradley, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at The University of Texas-Pan American, has spent years researching reflexes and decision-making capabilities in older people to find out if and when they need to hand over their car keys to someone else.

Dr. Mike Bradley, assistant professor of occupational therapy at UTPA, demonstrates using a driving simulator he plans to use for his research on older drivers. Graduate students in his class and other faculty members will also use the simulator for their research.

Now he and graduate students in the occupational therapy program, as well as other faculty in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, will have the opportunity to conduct their own research with a driving simulator the University purchased this summer.

Bradley, who has worked with simulators in North Carolina, said he is interested in studying people's reflexes, reaction time, vision and other functions as they age and how that might affect their ability to drive and perform other tasks.

"Initially I'm interested in older adult drivers because of the aging Baby Boomer population," Bradley said. "People's reflexes, reaction time and vision all start going down and people start getting early sight dementia and families start saying, 'I'm worried about mom or dad, can I get them a driving evaluation?' You can't put them In a simulator and say you're safe to go on the road now, you have to do an on the road test to determine if they're safe on the road, but you can get some initial data from this, so if you crash on the simulator, you don't kill anybody. Clinical assessment may be able to predict how you operate on the road."

Specifically, Bradley said he wants to see if the simulator can be a good predictor of how a person will perform on the road. The simulator also can be used to assess stroke victims and people with brain injuries, he said.

Graduate students began using the simulator during the Summer II semester, which started July 13. Other faculty members have also expressed interest in using the simulator, Bradley said.

Read more about UTPA's occupational therapy program.