The surge of baby boomers now entering their 60s means more drivers on the road who may be impaired by dementia or other cognitive impairments linked to aging. Researchers at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and elsewhere have developed a three-hour workshop that trains health care providers to identify potentially unsafe drivers with dementia and to encourage appropriate retirement from driving.
"We don't want to give the message that older drivers are always unsafe, because that's just not the case," says Thomas Meuser, Ph.D., research associate professor of neurology at Washington University. "But there are health-related changes associated with aging, including Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, that impair medical fitness to drive."
In a recent issue of the Gerontologist, Meuser and colleagues reported on the effects of their workshop after presentations to health professionals in seven Missouri locations, including a number of rural cities with large elderly populations. The presentations were organized with assistance from local chapters of the Alzheimer's Association and other groups.
"We found a significant change in the willingness of participants to ask their patients questions about driving and to document findings and concerns in the medical record," Meuser says. "There was a real sense among participants that yes, there is something that I can do."
Debate is ongoing about when in the progression of dementia a patient becomes ineligible to drive. Most states, including Missouri, do not have specific prohibitions in this regard, but all states allow health professionals and others to report persons perceived as medically unfit to drive due to dementia or other conditions. In 2001, the American Academy of Neurology recommended that persons diagnosed with mild dementia stop driving for reasons of personal and public safety.