As people age, their driving habits change. However, for some individuals, minor changes in how they operate a car start to show up, which researchers believe to be related to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is well-documented to cause alterations in a person’s driving behavior. According to the US National Institute on Aging1, family members may eventually discover that their loved one is taking longer to accomplish a simple trip, has been driving more erratically, or becomes confused about the pedals.
How can your driving reveal early Alzheimer’s symptoms?
Recently, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis attempted to investigate the driving behaviors of people who may or may not have Alzheimer’s symptoms. The goal of this National Institute on Aging-funded DRIVES Study2 was to determine whether examining the driving patterns of this group alone could identify the early stages of the disease without the use of invasive or costly medical procedures.
A group of seniors in Missouri in the US volunteered to have their driving intensively watched for a year as part of an experiment to see if Global Positioning System-based (GPS) location-tracking devices can help identify these driving variations.
The researchers carrying out the study had previously split the 139 participants into. Those with and those without preclinical Alzheimer’s via tests such as PET scans and spinal fluid (CSF) tests. These medical examinations revealed that about half of them had very early-stage (or preclinical) Alzheimer’s disease, and half did not.
There were discernible disparities between the two groups based on an analysis of their driving. For example, those with preclinical Alzheimer’s frequently drove more slowly, changed their course abruptly, traveled less at night, and covered fewer kilometers overall. When traveling by car, they went to a narrower selection of places and took slightly shorter routes. These movements and the times they happened were made clear by the GPS trackers installed in the participant cars.
The researchers were able to create a model that could predict someone’s chance of getting preclinical Alzheimer’s using only their age and their GPS driving data by using findings of the driving data. It turned out to be 86% correct. When the results of an apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotyping test, which determines if you may have an inherited risk for the disease, were included, the model’s accuracy increased even further (up to 90%).
Limitations of the study
Large-scale randomized trials are required to demonstrate a clear connection between the observed driving behaviors and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. According to Sayeh Bayat, who led the study, it might be challenging to spot early signs of more subtle changes, like consistently driving more slowly. For a thorough investigation of that distinction, data collection across time is necessary.
Ms.Bayat further stated that in certain circumstances, study participants with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease would avoid driving at night, limit their driving to slightly narrower areas around their homes, or drive slower than usual. Monitoring a person’s road use over a more prolonged period may be the most effective way to use driving data to determine. Whether they are at risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease while not having preclinical symptoms. That would probably show that they have made modifications to their driving.
The fact that this could be a low-cost method of diagnosing the problem at an early stage. Perhaps helping therapy, could be the game-changer in this situation. Even if there were health benefits, it also begs the question of whether elderly individuals would want thorough monitoring of their behavior.
Alzheimer’s Research Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We provide the latest information and news about the illness and helpful tips. To help caregivers cope with their daily caregiving challenges. We realize the most important thing that a caregiver needs is financial assistance. Therefore, we provide grants to caregivers to ease their financial burden. Caregivers can apply for grants here: https://www.alzra.org/grant-applications/.
You can also help caregivers in their endeavors by donating as much as possible: Donations to Alzheimer’s Association.
- Driving Safety and Alzheimer’s Disease. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/driving-safety-and-alzheimers-disease
- Bayat, S., Babulal, G.M., Schindler, S.E., Fagan, A.M., Morris, J.C., Mihailidis, A. and Roe, C.M., 2021. GPS driving: a digital biomarker for preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 13(1), pp.1-9. https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13195-021-00852-1#Sec2