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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Mild Alzheimer's Patients Can Drive Safely

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"[T]his finding is further evidence not to suspend driving privileges based on diagnosis alone," write the authors. Contrary to the views of some experts, the study indicates that having mild or very mild Alzheimer's disease doesn't predict a decline in driving ability, at least for the first couple of years.

The patients were from the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. Participants of this registry are enrolled in studies of healthy aging and dementia and return each year for an evaluation.

In order to enroll in the study, patients had to take a driving test, and the severity of their disease was determined by a clinical evaluation consisting of a 90-minute interview and physical and neurological exams by experienced clinicians. However, Dan Foley, MS, an epidemiologist at the National Institute on Aging, says that the study is flawed because the researchers picked only those individuals who were most likely to have good driving records.

"I don't think this population is representative of all drivers with dementia. I think it was a rather robust group who was conscious of the fact that they were driving with dementia and probably would need to quit," Foley tells WebMD. Foley agrees that it's possible to drive safely with Alzheimer's disease, but not for long.

"For me, a patient with Alzheimer's disease is an accident on the way to happen. Well, how do you prevent that ...? You have the person stop driving," says Foley. Morris acknowledges that those in the study may represent a pro-driving bias, but he says more research needs to be done to see how the positive finding applies to a larger population of Alzheimer's patients.

The study does show that those with DAT tended to more often be involved in crashes where they were at fault or where injuries were involved. "What particular cognitive abilities need to be affected, how severely, and whether drivers with dementia are more likely to be involved in at-fault or injurious crashes ... remain to be determined," writes accompanying editorial author Richard Marottoli, MD, of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

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