Does memory affect the abilities of senior drivers on the road

Published On: Jan 30 2013 01:11:11 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 02 2013 06:56:01 PM EST
DETROIT -

At a certain point in our lives, if we live long enough we may be asked to give up our car keys. 

It's a dilemma for many families with older loved ones.

Numerous studies have show when we get older our driving abilities decline, if you add memory loss into the the equation, it can be even worse. 

A recent road test evaluation looked at the driving ability of 100 participants, some healthy and some with a mild cognitive impairment. 

"We try to determine how well does a road test evaluation reflect how safe someone is driving in the real world," said Dr. Brian Ott, investigator in the study.

Each driver had to pass a standardized road test, then cameras were mounted in their cars over a two week period.

"So, the four mounted cameras definitely gave us a better picture. The road test was only 45 minuets and we were able to put the cameras in their cars for two weeks of their regular routine. And so, we were really able to see what they were doing on a daily bases, where they were travelling and what kinds of behaviors they might be doing when they are most comfortable," said Dr. Jennifer Davis, co-investigator.

Ott also mounted cameras in his own car to help demonstrating good and questionable driving. 

"We were just having Dr. Ott ride through the street and so as example of what we are looking for, he kind of accelerated too quickly when he came from a stop, he is also going out of lane here and passed the car on the right, which is inappropriate," said Davis of the test footage.

Researchers do not go as far as to say anyone with an initial Alzheimer's diagnosis should stop driving but suggested further research and evaluation is needed.

"We looked at them in their home driving and of course in a couple of weeks we saw events that really made us uncomfortable in terms of their driving safety and we recommended they stop driving," said Ott.

In a new pilot study, researchers now plan to put cameras in the cars of about 10 participants for nine months.

The participants will have full access to the video recordings.

Once the data is collected, the question may then become: can people with memory loss be trained to be safer drivers, or is it time to make the difficult decision to give up the car keys?