Early Alzheimer's May Hamper Driving
Study Shows 'Potentially Hazardous Driving' in Patients With Mild Alzheimer's Disease
Jan. 23, 2008 -- Even the early stages of Alzheimer's disease may impair
driving ability, new research shows.
In a new study, people with very mild or mild Alzheimer's disease had more
accidents and worse scores on a road test than people of the same age without
Brian Ott, MD, of Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence,
R.I., and colleagues report their findings in today's advance online edition of
(As a caregiver, what made you decide it was time to take
away the keys? Talk with others on our Alzheimer’s Disease: Support Group
Driving and Alzheimer's Disease
The study included 128 older drivers (average age: 75) who got brain scans
and took mental skills tests. The group included 84 people with early-stage
During the three-year study, participants took a driving test at least twice
and reported any accidents they had.
Ott's team checked state driving records to confirm participants'
self-reported crash records. They also advised people who failed the driving
test to stop driving.
Throughout the study, the Alzheimer's patients showed riskier driving
profiles. They were more likely to fail their first driving test, had a bigger
drop in their road test scores over time, and had a worse accident record than
people without Alzheimer's.
People with very mild Alzheimer's disease performed better than those with
mild Alzheimer's disease. But driving ability "declines fairly rapidly
among patients with dementia," the researchers
say, adding that the patients they studied may not represent all Alzheimer's
Not Safe to Drive?
Ott's team argues that "vigilance and re-assessment of driving
competence should be considered for all older drivers, regardless of whether or
not they have cognitive impairment."
As for elders with mild dementia, Ott and colleagues say it would be
"reasonable" to assess driving privileges every six months, though that
may be expensive and not available nationwide.
But there are
different views on issues of driving, aging, and Alzheimer's disease.
The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry and the American Academy
of Neurology support considering halting driving for all Alzheimer's patients,
including people with mild Alzheimer's disease, according to Ott's team.
But the Alzheimer's Association states on its web site that "a diagnosis
of Alzheimer's disease alone is not a reason to take away driving
privileges" and that driving decisions should rest with caregivers.