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Driving With Early Alzheimer's May Be Ill-Advised
Date:3/11/2010

Even a drive to the local store can end in getting lost, hurt, study finds

FRIDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- Elderly people with failing memories often keep driving, but a study of Alzheimer's patients suggests the risk of getting lost -- even on familiar streets -- may be greater than once thought.

Even with early dementia, there may be no safe period behind the wheel because the disease is unpredictable, said Linda Hunt, an associate professor in the School of Occupational Therapy at Pacific University, Oregon, and author of a new study.

"Alzheimer's disease affects memory and navigational skills. These impairments may lead to getting lost, which is a life-threatening problem," Hunt said. "Family members and friends of individuals with dementia need to recognize these impairments as serious threats to safety for anyone who has dementia."

It is estimated that 30 to 45 percent of Alzheimer's patients continue to drive after diagnosis.

About 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, a progressive brain disease causing a variety of mental impairments that include memory loss, inability to recognize objects, problems with reasoning and judgment, and getting lost. As the population ages, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's is expected to triple to 16 million by 2050.

The study, published in the March-April issue of American Journal of Occupational Health, looked at media stories published between 1998 and 2008 that involved Alzheimer's patients reported missing.

Of 207 drivers with Alzheimer's who went missing while driving, 32 died and 35 were found injured, the research showed. Another 70 were not found at the time the data was analyzed. Some had driven for almost two days and covered more than 1,700 miles while lost. Most had set off on routine trips to the post office, store or a relative's house.

"We all want to avoid an old
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