Posted by: Bert Copple | March 23, 2010

Study Finds Driving with Early Alzheimer’s May Be Risky

Older people with failing memories often keep driving, but a new study suggests that the risk of Alzheimer’s patients getting lost, even on familiar streets, is greater than once thought.

There may be no safe period behind the wheel, even with early dementia, because the disease is unpredictable, says Linda Hunt of Pacific University in Oregon.

“Alzheimer’s disease affects memory and navigational skills,” she said. “These impairments may lead to getting lost, which is a life-threatening problem. Family members and friends of individuals with dementia need to recognize these impairments as serious threats to safety for anyone who has dementia.”

An estimated 30 to 45 percent of Alzheimer’s patients continue to drive after diagnosis, Health Day reports. About 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to triple to 16 million by 2050.

The study looked at media stories published between 1998 and 2008 that involved Alzheimer’s patients reported missing. Of 207 drivers who went missing while driving, 32 died, 35 were found injured and 70 were not found at the time the data was analyzed. Some had driven almost two days and covered 1,700 miles while lost. Most had set off on routine trips.

“We all want to avoid an older person having a tragic ending,” said Hunt, who noted that passengers, other drivers and pedestrians also are at risk.

Advocates for Alzheimer’s patients don’t believe driving privileges should be taken away upon a diagnosis. “Our position is that a diagnosis alone is not sufficient to have someone’s driving privileges taken away because many people in the early stages can still drive safely,” said Elizabeth Gould of the Alzheimer’s Association’s national office. Driving, she said, needs to be monitored and evaluations done by a professional, such as an occupational therapist.

Seniors may need assistance driving without you even realizing it. There is no reason to put them at that kind of risk, especially if they are around the age that Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia begin to strike. Why not hire Home Instead Senior Care to take care of incidental driving? It will bring you the peace of mind that your loved one will be safe and in careful hands. Home Instead is there for you when you need, and Alzheimer’s care is no exception; we train our CAREGivers in Alzheimer’s care so they will always be there when they are needed.

Home Instead Senior Care will provide outstanding caregivers to help your loved one with personal care, incidental travel, companionship, medication reminders, light housekeeping, and even meal preparation. To learn more, call 248-203-2273 or visit www.homeinstead.com. Home Instead Senior Care is the world’s trusted source of in-home non-commercial personal care and companionship for seniors. Each franchise is independently owned and operated. And remember, to us, it’s personal.

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