Do drivers over 65 need additional driving lessons? Scientists call for volunteers

Do drivers over 65 need additional driving lessons? Scientists call for volunteers
A team of scientists need volunteers to help with a study exploring how dementia can affect car driving in motorists over the age of 65.

It follows research1 published in the US that suggests more classes, lectures, training and lessons in road safety and driving are unlikely to benefit older drivers. 

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) will assess whether and how changes to thinking and spatial awareness impact driving in older motorists.

To help with the study, they’re looking for over-65s who actively drive to complete online questionnaires about their driving history, and carry out digital memory and thinking tests.

Dementia, most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s disease, is not necessarily a reason for a person to stop driving – one in three people with dementia still drive.

However, if a motorist is diagnosed with dementia, the first priority is to determine how safe they are on the road. The DVLA or DVA and their insurance company must be notified so the motorist can be assessed to see whether it’s still safe for them to hold a licence.

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Professor Michael Hornberger, who is leading the study at UEA, said: “Driving is such an essential part of our lives, not only when we work, but also in retirement when many people are dependent on the car to get around, especially if they live in more rural areas.

“However, surprisingly little is known on how the cognitive changes during ageing impact our driving. This becomes particularly relevant when older people develop the first symptoms of dementia, which might impact their driving behaviour.

“Few people know that a common symptom in Alzheimer’s disease is spatial disorientation. Spatial disorientation in Alzheimer’s disease can have serious consequences, leading to people potentially becoming lost, which in turn can impact driving behaviour. The study will help inform future policies on how to assess driving changes in older people and those with earliest cognitive changes, such as in dementia.”

As well as having memory problems, people with dementia may have other health conditions that can affect their driving abilities. Arthritis, muscle conditions, and vision or hearing problems may also impact safety.

Tim Parry, director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in the UK are making in-person opportunities to get involved in research challenging, but there are still opportunities, with many research studies, like this one, available online.

“Without volunteers, we will not be able to make the progress in research that people with dementia and their loved ones deserve. Alzheimer’s Research UK is a founding partner in the national service Join Dementia Research, which matches volunteers to research studies they are eligible to take part in.”

To take part in the study, visit the Join Dementia Research website.

 


1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457520316729

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