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Should Parkinson's Patients Drive?

Latest Study Adds to Research That Disease Impairs Ability

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While numerous studies have shown that the disease does impair driving -- by the disease itself and the medication to treat it -- efforts even to bring up the issue are usually rare, says Zesiewicz.

"We don't want to bring it up," she tells WebMD. "Patients love to drive and it increases their quality of life; it gives them independence. When doctors broach the driving topic, it's met with resistance -- by the patients and their families. I think many doctors are unaware of the problem, but others may feel they'll be unpopular with their patients."

There is also debate on when Parkinson's severely impacts driving ability, and some question how it compares to deficits caused by normal aging. In Zesiewicz's study, for instance, 20% of both early-stage Parkinson's patients and "healthy" seniors at the same age caused simulated accidents.

"There have been studies finding that age had more influence on driving ability, or the lack of it, than early or middle stages of Parkinson's," says Judy Rosner, a spokeswoman for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. "I don't think you can establish driving guidelines because this disease affects different people in different ways. Our recommendation is, if you are concerned about a family member, bring them in for testing. Let the appropriate officials decide if they are able to drive."

Ellie Martin, a spokeswoman for the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says her agency has "no opinion" on whether Parkinsonians should have driving restrictions. "Any and all laws pertaining to who can drive and who can't are decided by the individual state," she tells WebMD.

"However, we have new advanced driving simulators, under the management of the University of Iowa, that tests drivers with various medical conditions to determine how these illnesses and medications impact their ability to drive. One of the potential uses is for those with Parkinson's disease. But as far as I know, no studies are scheduled." The university confirmed no Parkinson's studies are under way or planned.

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