Although many people with mild dementia (such as in early
Alzheimer’s Disease) may initially be able to drive safely, their driving skills predictably
decline over 1 – 2 years to a level that often leaves them unsafe
to drive. The finding is the result of new research published in a recent
edition of the journal
Neurology — the official journal of the
American Academy of Neurology.
Scientists conducting this most recent study recorded changes in the driving
ability of 84 older adults for a period of 3 years or more. Forty of the
participants had been diagnosed with very mild dementia or mild Alzheimer’s
disease, and 44 other individuals of a similar age were found to be free
of cognitive impairment. This second group served as the control group.
The dementia-afflicted participants were evaluated clinically and had a
driving test with a professional driving instructor every 6 months. The
control group was tested at the time of enrollment and after 18 months.
Additionally, the researchers collected driving and traffic violation
information on all participants over the course of the study.
Initially, 41% of the participants with early Alzheimer’s disease
were judged to be safe drivers, despite their dementia. Another 44% percent
were marginal drivers, and 15% were deemed unsafe. By contrast, baseline
driving tests demonstrated that 80% of the control group were safe drivers,
20% were marginal, and none unsafe.
By 18 months, many of the participants in both groups had stopped driving
either due to hazardous driving or progression of dementia. At this point,
only 5 of the 26 Alzheimer’s patients who were still capable of
being evaluated were determined to be safe (19%), in comparison to 12
of the 21 control-group drivers (or 57%).
Authors of the study advise that these findings illustrate the great need
for valid screening tests of cognition and driving skill, so that at-risk
drivers who should have a specialized driving evaluation can be easily
Warning signs that a senior driver may be unsafe may include driving too
slowly, being confused or undecided at intersections, getting lost in
familiar locations, failing to observe traffic signs, or being in an at-fault
vehicular accident, among others.
Previously on the
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