Driving Risk for Elderly with Dementia Greater than Previously Thought
Posted Jun 07 2010 5:17am
From Health Day - A study published in the a recent issue of American Journal of Occupational Health says that elderly people with failing memories often keep driving and the risk of getting lost may be greater than once thought.
Even with early dementia, there may be no safe period behind the wheel because the disease is unpredictable, said Linda Hunt, an associate professor in the School of Occupational Therapy at Pacific University, Oregon, and author of a new study.
It is estimated that 30 to 45 percent of Alzheimer's patients continue to drive after diagnosis.
Of 207 drivers with Alzheimer's who went missing while driving, 32 died and 35 were found injured, the research showed. Another 70 were not found at the time the data was analyzed. Some had driven for almost two days and covered more than 1,700 miles while lost. Most had set off on routine trips to the post office, store or a relative's house.
Hunt, who thinks the problem is "bigger than we realize," called her study "the tip of the iceberg." The public needs to become more aware of this problem because it has been previously thought that Alzheimer's patients' driving ability need only be monitored.
Only six states -- Oregon, California, Nevada, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- have mandatory reporting laws when a doctor finds a patient is mentally impaired. Advocates for Alzheimer's patients believe that driving privileges should not be terminated upon a diagnosis.
Family members should begin a conversation upon diagnosis. The person will have more insight into the problem. If it is decided the patient can no longer drive, the doctor can be the bad guy.
The Alzheimer's Association offers a web-based program called "Comfort Zone" that families of Alzheimer's patients can use if the person can still drive safely in familiar places. The driver agrees to limit driving to a "comfort zone," and a global positioning system (GPS) monitors driving. If the driver leaves the area, the family is notified in real time.