Should older drivers with memory loss be allowed behind the wheel?

Published On: Jan 30 2013 12:33:33 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 02 2013 06:23:33 AM EST
older driver

National Insitutes of Health

Researchers are trying to determine whether older drivers with memory loss should be allowed behind the wheel. 

 Studies have shown, as we get older, our driving abilities decline.  If you have memory issues, it can be even worse. 

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

 Dr. Ott, a co investigator in this NIH funded study, says they enrolled more than 100 participants, some healthy and some with mild cognitive impairment. First they had to pass road tests.

 Co investigator, Dr. Jennifer Davis says they had to pass a standardized road test, much like the one teenagers take to get their driver's license. Most in the study did. Then they had four cameras mounted in their car over a two week period.

 "The four mounted cameras in the car definitely gave us a better picture because the road test was only 45 minutes and then we were able to put the cameras in the cars for two weeks of their regular routine and so we really were able to see what they were doing on a daily basis, where they were traveling and what kinds of behaviors they might be doing when they're most comfortable," said Davis.

 When they compared the 45 minute road test to the 2 week camera observation, some did worse on the road test.

And some worse when observed by camera over a period of time.

 Dr. Ott said, “Some people even though they seemed to be okay in the road testing situation, which is a brief bird's eye view of a particular day, when we looked at them in their home driving over the course of a couple weeks, we saw events that really made us uncomfortable in terms of their driving safety and recommended they stop driving."

 These researchers concluded an initial Alzheimer's diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean these individuals must stop driving immediately. Their findings published in the journal of the American Geriatrics Society.  

  And the research continues with a new pilot study, which involves mounting these drive cams, as they're called,  in the cars of folks with memory loss. These cameras only record "events."

 "If you drive too fast, if you swerve, anything that generates a g-force," intoned Ott.

 These drive cams will be mounted in the cars of about 10 study participants for nine months. 

 Those participants will have access to video recordings on line. 

 The question is: Can folks with memory loss be trained to be safer drivers?

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