Rhode Island Hospital to study driving ability of cognitively impaired elders

December 18, 2007

Rhode Island Hospital has received a renewal of a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to continue to examine the driving abilities of elderly drivers. The study is the first of its kind to directly examine cognitively impaired elders in their natural driving environments.

Under the direction of principal investigator Brian Ott, MD, director of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital, 150 older drivers will be studied - 50 with mild Alzheimer's disease, 50 with questionable or mild dementia and 50 with no cognitive impairment.

In the study, driving performance in a structured road test will be compared to performance in an unstructured, natural driving setting. The comparison will help to understand the validity of the road test as a standard for driving assessment in this population and will also allow researchers to quantify the types of errors made while driving.

Ott says, "The knowledge gained from this longitudinal study will further advance our understanding of this very important and vexing problem of drivers with early dementia. This study has the potential to produce a solution to identifying those at greatest risk for hazardous driving, as it will help us to develop computerized measures as a screening measure in the clinician's office practice or in a department of motor vehicles."

The subjects will be digitally videotaped in their own cars, driving in their natural environments. These recordings will be compared to performance on computerized measures of visual attention and executive function. The same subjects will be similarly analyzed in an extended version of the Rhode Island adaptation of the Washington University Road Test, a performance-based assessment for drivers with dementia. Assessments will be done at baseline and repeated at one year.
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Founded in 1863, Rhode Island Hospital (www.rhodeislandhospital.org) is a private, not-for-profit hospital and is the largest teaching hospital of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. A major trauma center for southeastern New England, the hospital is dedicated to being on the cutting edge of medicine and research. Rhode Island Hospital ranks 15th among independent hospitals who receive funding from the National Institutes of Health, with research awards of nearly $27 million annually. Many of its physicians are recognized as leaders in their respective fields of cancer, cardiology, diabetes, orthopedics and minimally invasive surgery. The hospital's pediatrics division, Hasbro Children's Hospital, has pioneered numerous procedures and is at the forefront of fetal surgery, orthopedics and pediatric neurosurgery. Rhode Island Hospital is a founding member of the Lifespan health system.

Lifespan

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