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Driven off the road by brain disease.

Driven off the road by brain disease

Preliminary data suggest elderly people with Alzheimer's disease or other brain disorders that progressively disturb memory and perception present a serious and largely unrecognized danger to society: They often continue to drive although they are at a heightened risk for causing automobile accidents.

Psychiatrist Larry E. Tune and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore administered a questionnaire on driving habits to 72 patients consecutively referred to their Dementia Research Clinic. The researchers confirmed patients' reports with caregivers and relatives.

Subjects in the survey averaged 72 years of age. Most had Alzheimer's disease or brain damage due to strokes. About three years had passed since symptoms of the diseases first appeared.

Nineteen patients had never driven. Of the remaining 53 patients, 16 continued to drive. Five of them had been in at least one automobile accident since the onset of their illness. A large majority of those still behind the wheel drove alone and at night. Almost half regularly got lost while driving, and three-quarters consistently drove below the speed limit.

Scores on tests of perception and memory were no different for subjects who had accidents compared with those who did not.

Tune and his co-workers routinely advise patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease or brain damage due to strokes not to drive. Alternative transportation strategies are worked out with caregivers and relatives. The researchers also notify the state Department of Motor Vehicles if they consider a patient too impaired to drive.
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Title Annotation:Behavior; Alzheimer's disease
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:May 20, 1989
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