"Parkinson's disease causes patients to lose automatic abilities, including those associated with driving," says Dr. John Morgan, associate professor of neurology in the School of Medicine and director of the MCG Movement Disorders Program's National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence. "The old adage, 'You can't walk and chew gum at the same time,' applies in Parkinson's, and driving involves multiple tasks, so that ability is impacted."
Nearly 70 percent of Parkinson's patients eventually stop driving because of symptoms including freezing of movement, lack of coordination, slow reaction time, cognitive decline and/or medication side-effects such as drowsiness. While most patients drive until the disease reaches stage three, which is characterized by symptoms on both sides of the body and some balance impairment, 18 percent give up driving long before safety becomes a factor, Dr. Akinwuntan says.
"Driving has become such a fundamental daily activity that we often underestimate the influence it has on decisions such as the location of our homes, clothes we wear, activities we engage in and social functions we attend," Dr. Akinwuntan says.
Driving not only enhances independence, it fosters other cognitive tasks, such as checking items off of a grocery list after driving to the store.
"Perhaps patients engaged in such an intervention will continue driving two or three years longer than those without training," Dr. Akinwuntan says. Study findings also may apply to other cognition-impaired patients, such as those with traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease.
|Contact: Paula Hinely|
Medical College of Georgia