Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Expert Knowledge May Offset the Impact of Old Age in Some Occupations

According to a study published in the February 27, 2007, issue of Neurology®, older pilots performed better over time than younger pilots on flight simulator tests. The results of a three-year longitudinal study by Joy L. Taylor, PhD, Quinn Kennedy, PhD, Art Noda, MS and Jerome A. Yesavage, MD were published in "Pilot age and expertise predict flight simulator performance". Among other things, the authors found that "while older pilots initially performed worse than younger pilots, older pilots showed less of a decline in overall flight summary scores than younger pilots, and over time their traffic avoidance performances improved more than that of younger pilots."
“These findings show the advantageous effect of prior experience and specialized expertise on older adults’ skilled cognitive performances,” said study author Joy L. Taylor, PhD, with the Stanford/VA Aging Clinical Research Center in Palo Alto, California. “Our discovery has broader implications beyond aviation to the general issue of aging in the workplace and the objective assessment of competency in older workers.”
In the same issue, Joseph I. Sirven and Daniel G. Morrow have an editorial--"Fly the graying skies: A question of competency vs age" suggesting that the study had implications "well beyond aviation," noting the rapid aging of the population means increasing numbers of older workers in critical occupations. As quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle:
"It is time to reconsider fixed age limits for the workplace and consider transitioning to competency-based evaluations of performance," said the editorial authors, Dr. Joseph L. Sirven of the Mayo Clinic and Daniel G. Morrow of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. "Better simulation techniques need to be developed not only in aviation, but also in medicine and other careers where public safety is at risk.
Source: American Academy of Neurology Press Release (February 26, 2007)

Other Sources: The San Francisco Chronicle "Experience tops youth in study on aging pilots" (February 27, 2007); "Pilot Study Questions Wisdom of Mandatory Retirement" (February 28, 2007)

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