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Health And Wellness

How driving behaviors can indicate early signs of dementia

By Kiersten Willis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren

New research shows how early indicators of dementia can be seen in older people’s driving habits.

A study from scientists at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science has used highly accurate algorithms for detecting mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older motorists.

The findings of the study were published last month in the journal Geriatrics.

Using naturalistic driving data, or real-world in-vehicle recordings or other technologies, researchers could take detailed measurements of driving exposure, space and performance. Researchers also used machine learning techniques in the study.

“Based on variables derived from the naturalistic driving data and basic demographic characteristics, such as age, sex, race/ethnicity and education level, we could predict mild cognitive impairment and dementia with 88 percent accuracy,” lead author Sharon Di, associate professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics at Columbia Engineering said in a press release.

The study involved 2,977 participants from the multisite cohort study Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD). When participants enrolled in the study, which began in August 2015 and ended in March 2019, they were active drivers from 65 to 79 years old. They had no drastic cognitive impairment or degenerative medical conditions.

By April 2019, 33 participants were recently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and 31 were diagnosed with dementia. A deeper evaluation showed that age was the most predictive factor of mild cognitive impairment and dementia. That was followed by the percentage of trips taken within 15 miles of home, race/ethnicity, length of trips that began and ended at home, minutes per trip and the number of hard braking incidents with deceleration rates.

“Driving is a complex task involving dynamic cognitive processes and requiring essential cognitive functions and perceptual motor skills. Our study indicates that naturalistic driving behaviors can be used as comprehensive and reliable markers for mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” said senior author Dr. Guohua Li, professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “If validated, the algorithms developed in this study could provide a novel, unobtrusive screening tool for early detection and management of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older drivers.”