driving dementia

Driving Habits in Older Adults Could Help Detect Dementia

By | December 5th, 2017

Scientists are tracking cognitive decline-related brain changes with a tiny device installed in the cars of 50 older adults.

The simple act of driving, considered a psychomotor task that indicates how well the brain responds to changes in the environment, can be a measure of cognitive decline, according to researchers. Now, scientists at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis are tracking those changes with a tiny device installed in the cars of 50 older adults.

The device, a chip plugged under the dashboard to the car’s computer system, sends data every 30 seconds to a team of researchers. Scientists hope that by looking through the data of the 50 participants, they might better understand how Alzheimer’s symptoms begin to creep into daily life.

Everyone in the study was tested for early signs of Alzheimer’s, and they’ll continue to be monitored throughout the two years scientists hope to follow them. The results will be used to compare normal brains to the brains of those who have the signs of Alzheimer’s in their brain, but no outward symptoms. The study will look at how abnormal biomarkers in the brain, which usually take decades to manifest as Alzheimer’s, might be affecting a task like driving.

The chip, usually used by companies with fleets of drivers to track driving habits or by parents to monitor their teen’s driving, can track whether the driver is veering into another lane, making sudden stops and starts, when the drivers are making trips and how many miles they drive each day. Changes in habits that relate to dementia include things like restricting driving to certain hours, avoiding bad weather and taking shorter trips.

Washington University received a $5.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in August to continue the study, which they hope to increase by 250 participants. Researchers are currently looking for volunteers for the study. Participants must be at least 65 years old and have no cognitive impairment. A two-year commitment is required, and volunteers will undergo periodic medical testing. Compensation starts at $475 for the first year, and $125 for following years. For more information, call 314-747-1474 or email Sarah Stout at shstout@wustl.edu.


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