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Simulation study may help Parkinson's patients retain driving skills
Date:2/1/2010

AUGUSTA, Ga. In a first-of-its-kind study, Medical College of Georgia researchers are testing whether simulation driving can reduce Parkinson's patients' threefold increased risk of car accidents.

Drivers with Parkinson's disease are three times more likely to have a car accident than healthy drivers because of cognitive, motor and visuospatial impairments.

Previous studies show that mind-challenging activities improve retention of cognitive capabilities.

"The question is how long can a patient retain the benefit of the retrained skills before it's eroded by this progressive disease?" says Dr. Abiodun Akinwuntan, assistant professor of physical therapy and neurology in the Schools of Allied Health Sciences and Medicine and director of MCG's Driving Simulation Lab. He expects training will improve and slow the degeneration of driving skills, enabling patients to stay on the road longer than Parkinson's patients without the training.

Funded by a $10,000 grant from the Augusta Chapter of the National Parkinson Foundation, researchers will study 30 local patients with stage two or three Parkinson's disease.

Participants will take cognition tests, a simulator-based driving test and an on-road driving test before and after the five-week training period.

The simulation training consists of 10 one-hour sessions in a car with driving scenarios projected on three life-sized screens. Participants will "drive" as they would in real life to navigate the scenarios, which simulate local workday traffic.

The scenarios test skills including visuospatial, visual attention and memory, reaction time, hazard perception and executive function. The program documents the participants' number of lane edge crossings, speeding tickets, traffic light violations, accidents and reaction time.

The study will determine if simulation training improves driving and if the improvement translates to on-road testing.


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Contact: Paula Hinely
phinely@mcg.edu
706-721-3646
Medical College of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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