When it's OK to drive with mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment is an unreliable indicator of driving skills and does not mean the person is unfit to drive, dementia researchers have shown.

They came to this conclusion after putting 57 patients with mild cognitive impairment through on-road driving tests and finding they were no more likely to fail than patients with normal cognitive function.

The Australian National University researchers also found little difference in driver safety ratings between the two groups, based on a range of other standard tests to evaluate older driver safety as well as records of their driving history and behaviour.

“Our research shows that people with mild cognitive impairment are not automatically at risk or unsafe — each person needs to be considered individually,” said lead researcher Professor Kaarin Anstey.

She said the findings had significant implications for GPs, who are currently advised to review patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment every six months, under recommendations from the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine.

“While some patients would go on to develop dementia and become unfit to drive, there would be others who do not progress to dementia and may continue to drive safely,” said Professor Anstey, a director of the university’s Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing.

She suggested looking out for factors such as poor executive function, slow reaction times, poor peripheral vision and eye disease.

If GPs had any doubts about driving ability, they could refer patients to a driving assessment by a driver-trained occupational therapist, Professor Anstey added.

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