Associated Press of Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: People with very mild dementia can continue to drive safely for extended periods of time, but require regular follow-up assessments. A study suggests that periodic evaluation of driving skills of all the normal but aged people is also necessary for safe driving.
Many people at early stage of Alzheimer or mild dementia may initially be able to drive safely. However, their driving skills predictably decline over 1-2 years to a level that often precludes safe driving, BBC reported.
Red flags that indicate it is time to take away the keys include driving too slowly, being confused or undecided at intersections, getting lost at familiar locations, failing to observe traffic signs and signals and being in an at-fault motor vehicle accident.
To study how dementia affects the driving skills of people, American researchers studied changes for up to 3 years in the driving ability of 84 individuals, about 76 years old, who had been diagnosed with very mild or mild Alzheimer’s disease and compared these against the changes in 44 individuals of the same age group, but free of cognitive impairment.
The Alzheimer’s patients were evaluated clinically and had a driving test with a professional driving instructor every six months.
The control group was tested when they were enrolled and after 18 months. Driving and traffic violation information on all participants was also collected over the course of the study.
Initially, 41 per cent of the participants with early Alzheimer’s disease were judged to be safe drivers, 44 per cent were marginal, and 15 per cent were deemed unsafe drivers.
By contrast, baseline-driving tests showed 80 per cent of controls as safe, 20 per cent as marginal, and none as 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, just 5 (19 per cent) of the 26 Alzheimer’s patients who could still be evaluated were judged to be safe, compared with 12 (57 per cent) of the 21 control-group drivers.
These findings suggest that regardless of signs of cognitive impairment, vigilance and reassessment of driving competence should be considered for all older drivers, so that any at-risk driver who should have a specialised driving evaluation could be identified.