UniSC developing cognitive safety test for older drivers | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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UniSC developing cognitive safety test for older drivers

University of the Sunshine Coast researchers at the MAIC/UniSC Road Safety Research Collaboration are developing an online screening tool to identify older people who may no longer be cognitively safe to drive.

Fitness to drive assessments can be confronting for older adults, who are faced with the possibility of losing their licence and independence.

With Australia’s ageing population there is an urgent need for accurate and reliable measures that screen for a person’s fitness to drive, says Research Fellow Dr Kayla Stefanidis from the MAIC/UniSC Road Safety Research Collaboration.

“The ROADSAFE Study is exploring the relationship between cognitive function and fitness to drive in older adults, with the overarching aim of determining the combination of cognitive performance measures that best predict driving capacity in this cohort,” Dr Stefanidis said.

“The findings from this research will inform the development of a cognitive screening tool that GPs and other health professionals can use to differentiate between older adults who require a formal driving assessment from those who remain cognitively fit to drive.”

There are currently no standardised measures or tests to help GPs and other health professionals determine when their patients may no longer be cognitively fit to drive, and hence require further assessment.

“This research fulfills the urgent need for a gold-standard assessment technique to help GPs and health professionals screen for impairments to driving capacity in older adults experiencing cognitive changes,” Dr Stefanidis said.

When a person’s fitness to drive is called into question, a costly on-road driving assessment conducted by an occupational therapist or driving assessor may be required.

It’s hoped the development of a screening tool will not only provide GPs with an accurate method of testing cognitive fitness to drive, but also lead to fewer unnecessary driving tests for older adults who are safe to be on the road.

“For older adults, the benefit of this research is a reduction in costly and unnecessary assessments. We want to keep older drivers who are safe to drive on the roads for as long as possible” Dr Stefanidis said.

The ROADSAFE Study will be recruiting healthy older adults aged 60 years or older with a Queensland driver’s licence to attend sessions at the University of the Sunshine Coast. It will also recruit healthy older adults, with subjective memory or cognitive complaints.

Participants will undergo a two-hour comprehensive neuropsychological assessment and complete a driving assessment that will take them on a virtual tour of Maroochydore in the MAIC/UniSC Road Safety Research Collaboration’s driving simulator.

The research is being funded by The Co-Group Project Grant through the Dementia Australia Research Foundation, as part of its ongoing commitment to supporting Australia’s next generation of dementia researchers.

“I congratulate Dr Stefanidis on this important research. Diversity of projects such as this shows that we have a very exciting future for dementia research,” Professor Graeme Samuel AC, Chair of the Dementia Australia Research Foundation said.

“Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia is expected to increase to more than 800,000 by 2058. Innovation in dementia research is now more urgent than ever.”

Eligible participants can express their interest here or by contacting ROADSAFE@usc.edu.au.

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