Helping seniors drive safely, perhaps longer

   Driving is an important means of mobility and independence for older adults, but as seniors age they often experience impairments that interfere with their ability to drive safely. This makes age-related driving disorders an increasingly important public health issue. 

   Through a project called Health Professional Training for Age Related Driving-Disorders (ARDDS), a team of experts from the UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Trauma Epidemiology and Injury Prevention Research Center will be training local healthcare professionals in how to diagnose and refer older patients who may need assistance. 

   A nearly $200,000 grant from The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will make it possible for the UC San Diego team to expand a previous program—the “Road-Safe Seniors” Project (RSS) launched in November 2007—which screened more than 900 seniors for conditions that interfere with driving, using vision, cognitive and strength testing. The findings included the identification of one in five drivers with health issues affecting driving, many of them previously undiagnosed, and confirmation of reports that early dementia is under-diagnosed in routine care.

   “Using the AMA’s (American Medical Association) screening standards for adult drivers over age 65, we will teach healthcare personnel how to screen and diagnose, and how to refer patients or report problems,” said Linda Hill, MD, MPH, clinical professor of family and preventive medicine, UC San Diego. “Patients and families rely on healthcare professionals to help with the transition from driving to non-driving status. Our goal is to provide medical personnel with skills of confidence in a manner that is well validated and helpful to patients and society as a whole.” 

   Whereas the previous project concentrated on screening patients and training staff at UC San Diego Medical Center and the VA Hospital, San Diego, the new grant will allow Hill and her colleagues to train any eligible physicians, nurses, medical assistants, occupational therapists and healthcare workers from hospitals and outpatient medical sites across San Diego County.

   “Our goal here is not to stop all seniors from driving but to identify and correct any problems,” added Hill.  “It may be as simple as a new pair of glasses, some adaptive equipment for the car, or physical therapy to improve range of motion.  However, there are times when driving safely is no longer possible and healthcare practitioners need to know the signs and symptoms to watch for.”

   “If age-related driving issues are left unaddressed, there is a risk of injury not only to the seniors themselves, but also to their families and to others who share the road,” said Raul Coimbra, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and chief, Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns, UC San Diego Medical Center.  “And what we learn here in San Diego County can and will be shared with other states.”

   The DMV Ombudsman Program and the San Diego Driver Safety Office collaborated with and support UC San Diego in this endeavor and welcome efforts to engage physicians in screening for ARDDS.

   The grant team, led by Hill, includes: Coimbra, Kevin Patrick, MD, professor of family and preventive medicine, and program coordinator Jill Rybar.  The UC San Diego team will use screening tools recommended by the AMA with the goal of making this part of the healthcare community’s standard of care.

   
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