Driving performance declines with dementia and age

St. Louis, Oct. 3, 2003 -- In one of the first studies to track driving performance over time in older adults, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that driving abilities predictably worsen in individuals with early Alzheimer's disease and, to a lesser extent, in older adults without dementia.

The findings will appear in the October issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"As we expected, people with dementia, generally in the mild stages, declined faster than the nondemented individuals," says senior author Janet M. Duchek, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and of occupational therapy. "But it is very interesting that there also was decline in some of our nondemented participants. This is a preliminary study, but it suggests that testing individuals with mild dementia every six months can be useful to identify those who become unsafe."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults and affects about 4.5 million Americans. Affected individuals experience memory difficulties and problems with attention and eventually lose the ability to perform complicated tasks like driving.

But according to co-author John C. Morris, M.D., principal investigator of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology, it's impossible to predict driving performance based solely on whether a person has been diagnosed with dementia. That's why the research team, which also included Linda Hunt, Ph.D., formerly at the School of Medicine and now at Flathead Valley Community College in Mont., and David B. Carr, M.D., associate professor of medicine, developed an extensive, 45-minute, in-traffic driving test called the Washington University Road Test.

"Appropriate testing is important," Morris says. "For individuals who still drive safely, it can be reassuring and help them remain independent. It also can be u

Contact: Gila Z. Reckess
Washington University School of Medicine

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