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2008 Grants - Stern
Assessment of Driving Safety in Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia
Robert A. Stern, Ph.D.
2008 Investigator-Initiated Research Grant
Driving safety is an important public health issue for individuals of all ages, but it encompasses unique challenges among older persons. Although many older individuals are able to drive with little or no impairment, they experience an increased rate of accidents on average. Older individuals are also more likely to be at fault in accidents and to sustain serious or fatal injuries. These problems become more pronounced in persons with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia.
Families of older drivers, physicians, departments of motor vehicles and policymakers have all struggled with how to determine when an individual is no longer capable of driving safely. Formal, on-the-road driving exams are viewed as the "gold-standard" test, but they are expensive and not easily accessible to many elderly individuals. Other substitute tests—such as cognitive, motor and visual tests—have been used in some instances, and some medical associations have published guidelines for assessing driving ability. However, it is not known how accurately these tests and guidelines predict real-world driving ability in older persons or in those with MCI or dementia.
Robert A. Stern, Ph.D., and colleagues are studying a group of older drivers with MCI or dementia to identify a combination of office-based tests that accurately predicts driving safety in this population. Their goal is to develop recommendations for health care providers and policymakers regarding efficient and accurate methods for assessing driving ability in older individuals. This study addresses an important and often stressful issue among persons with cognitive impairment, their family members, healthcare providers and policymakers. It may help to resolve this issue in a manner that preserves, as much as possible, both individual autonomy and public safety.