Seeking Older Drivers for On-Road Research

January 30, 2016

Video-documenting driving ability helps to frame safety issues

Older drivers with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s dementia can volunteer to participate in new research that uses a car video-monitoring device to record driving ability. Rhode Island Hospital researchers will use the same technology that has been used successfully to reduce unsafe driving behavior among teenaged and commercial drivers.

“Citing safety reasons, many people want to ban cognitively impaired people from driving motor vehicles,” said Brian Ott, M.D., a neurologist and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital. “However, others note that many individuals with early-stage cognitive impairment can drive safely, without accidents, for several years. In fact, two-thirds can pass road tests despite mild impairment. Prematurely terminating a person’s ability to drive will surely affect their livelihood, social life and independence.”

Funded by The Alzheimer’s Association and based at the Alzheimer’s disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital, this study will examine whether a monitoring device called DriveCam® can improve driving ability by providing video feedback.

When a two-way camera in the participant’s car senses risky driving, it records for 15 seconds and posts the clip to a website for later review. For example, when the driver suddenly swerves, the camera will capture what the driver was seeing, hearing and doing before and after the incident. The driver and loved ones can review the recorded unsafe driving events together and discuss the causes and potential corrective actions.

“If we can show that it’s effective, this intervention could improve the safety of our roads. It’s a good safety check as well as a good training device,” said Jennifer Davis, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Rhode Island Hospital.

Ott and Davis have led driving and cognitive impairment research for the last 15 years. In a pilot study last year they examined how 12 people with mild dementia responded to the DriveCam®, and found that it reduced the severity of unsafe driving events by as much as 60 percent during a period of three months. In addition to the DriveCam® research, they have studied the natural course of driving skills deterioration in older drivers and how it relates to cognitive impairment. They found that people affected by mild dementia were able to continue driving safely for around one year, while those with mild cognitive impairment were able to continue driving for double that time, as measured by an on-road test.

To learn more about enrollment, call 401-444-6922 or email memory@lifespan.org.

Christina Spaight O'Reilly

Rhode Island Hospital
401-444-6421
christina.oreilly@lifespan.org