Apr 6, 2009

Can you drive with Alzheimer's -- FAU Driving Study

Within two years of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, individuals are generally unable to drive.

Within two years of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, individuals are generally unable to drive.
To those of you following our life experience on this blog.

My mother drove her car over one of those white, concrete abutments in the parking lot. She scrapped against a tree-- the tree tore off the entire passenger side of her car, front to back. She stopped when she bounced off the wall of her building.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

When the call came in about the accident, I was told there was nothing to worry about and my mother was fine. When I made it to Delray Beach the next day, I found out the car was "totaled" but mom was OK.

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My mother's friends and neighbors were relieved that she was "OK". The accident was quickly becoming a "funny" story. None of my mother's friends were concerned in any way.

My mother's doctor told me he checked her out, and they didn't find anything wrong with her. He then told me, maybe she hit the gas instead of the brake.

It turned out this was more than a "senior moment".

Eighteen months later my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

My take? Thank goodness the tree slowed her down. Uh huh.

Florida Atlantic University is a about 7 miles from where we live. They have been studying the "fitness to drive" of Alzheimer's patients.

As the population ages, the issue of whether older people should be driving is certain to grow. Down here in south Florida you hear people complaining about elderly drivers all the time. Of course, this includes me. But, I am complaining for very different reasons.

It is now clear that my mother was, at the minimum, suffering from mild cognitive impairment and was still driving a car. I find this disconcerting for two reasons.
  • First, she was putting the life of everyone on the road at risk
  • Second, she was putting her own life at risk.
For those of you that have been following along on this blog, you know that it took me a year and four doctors to get my mother diagnosed. My point here is simple.

She was on the road, driving away for years, and no one, not even her doctor(s) once mentioned that she might be in danger. The situation with my mother is not unique.

I watch as other elderly people we know, all of sudden, start getting lost when they are driving. I learned that when an elderly person starts complaining that they cannot find a place they were looking for, even with directions in hand, that this is not a sign that they are getting old--it is a sign of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's.

The FAU driving study is proving what most people are already observing--many elderly people can no longer drive.
"Roughly 60 to 65 percent of the individuals who come in for driving evaluations pass our driving assessment," Owens said. "By the time they come to us, they usually have some form of dementia. Within two years of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, individuals are generally unable to drive."
When I read these results all I can say is--Yikes.

More than a third of the drivers that come to them can't pass the test. Then, within two years of an Alzheimer's diagnosis they are unable to drive.

Have you ever tried to convince an elderly person they can no longer drive an automobile? If so, report your experience here if you have the time.

Writing this reminds me of a previous story I posted on this blog.  A man living in Texas decided to drive up to Kansas to visit family members. He disappeared. He was finally located in Mexico. 400 hundred miles into Mexico! The local sheriff said,
Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said, family members didn't think his dementia was as serious.
I bet a lot of people read that story and assumed the family members must be really dumb. Here is what I thought--happens every day. Well maybe not Mexico, but how about Tampa?

It is not so easy to detect, understand, or accept Alzheimer's and dementia. I think many of our readers understand exactly what I am saying and what I mean.

Detailed Description:

It is well known and of great concern to both patients and families that individuals with Alzheimer's disease eventually become driving impaired. Drivers with dementia are estimated to be 2-8 times more likely to be involved in an automobile crash as unimpaired peers. Approximately half of individuals with mild AD have the skills needed to drive safely. Formal driver evaluation may be necessary to make this distinction. Some reviews in the literature have suggested that individuals identified as high risk such as those with AD be advised by their physicians to cease driving altogether. Other studies suggest that these individuals may continue to drive for up to 4 years following diagnosis. Memantine may be effective in delaying the progression of driving impairment in individuals with mild Alzheimer's Disease (AD). If we can demonstrate a significant delay in the decline in the driving ability, this could extend their driving time and therefore be of immense benefit to patients and their caregivers.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room