Researchers have found certain driving habits may signal the first signs of dementia, such as lane deviation, as well as taking shorter or fewer road trips. Driving with dementia is a serious subject; after all, one in ten people that are 65 and older develop some type of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts say if you look at a group of 65 year olds, around 30% of them will show abnormal biomarkers for dementia. Signs of dementia typically start long before an official diagnosis and senior driving habits could help explain the process.
The Research on Driving with Dementia
Researchers at Washington University Medical Center are putting tracking devices on vehicles to assess the driving habits of seniors. They want to see which, if any, driving habits change or signal warning of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Researchers plan to follow the drivers for at least two years, tracking their every move by automobile in correlation with their overall health.
Prior to this study researchers were confined to studying senior driving habits on closed courses, which obviously has a lot of limitations. Plus, this study makes it easier for medical tests and driving results to be surveyed in conjunction with one another, because let’s be real, some people are bad drivers no matter how young or old they may be.
Because of this study, researchers hope to pinpoint certain habits that signal oncoming dementia. Additionally, researchers hope to gain insights that can lead the way to advancements that allow seniors to drive longer, an important step to improving senior independence and overall wellbeing.
Here are several driving habits that may signal the first signs of Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.
Sign #1: Lane Deviation
Researchers have already identified some signs of driving with dementia, the first of which is lane deviation. That’s why the chips researchers placed in vehicles document when drivers swerve out of their lane or off the road, even if it’s quickly corrected.
Sign #2: Taking Shorter Trips
As dementia sets in it often causes people to alter their everyday behaviors and routines. It’s common for people driving with dementia to start taking shorter trips or wanting to spend less time driving. Elderly patients often avoid driving except at certain times of day, they may stop driving at night or when it’s dark. It’s important to keep in mind that other age related side effects such as painful arthritis or poor vision can cause seniors to change their driving habits as well.
Sign #3: Getting Lost More Frequently
Getting lost while driving in familiar places is a very common and alarming sign of driving with dementia. Seniors who are developing dementia may drive long distances and end up somewhere unsure how they got there. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your loved one has a mobile phone on them whenever they drive. You should also keep a hand-written phone book so that they have everyone’s phone numbers in case they get lost and do not have their phone.
Sign #4: Failing to Acknowledge Speed Limits
Another sign of driving with dementia is not driving at the suggested speed limit. The chips researchers installed in senior vehicles can track speed limits on each road so researchers can see how speeding habits change over time.
Other signs of driving with dementia include:
- Mixing up the brake and gas pedal
- Hitting curbs while driving
- Experiencing anger or confusion behind the wheel
- Not recognizing or adhering to traffic signs
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