According to the Alzheimer's Association (2011), (1) in 8 people age 65 and older, and about one-half of people age 85 and older, have Alzheimer's disease in the United States (US). There is evidence that drivers with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias are at an increased risk for unsafe driving. Recent advances in sensor, computer, and telecommunication technologies provide a method for automatically collecting detailed, objective information about the driving performance of drivers, including those with early stage dementia. The objective of this project was to use in-vehicle technology to describe a set of driving behaviors that may be common in individuals with early stage dementia (i.e., a diagnosis of memory loss) and compare these behaviors to a group of drivers without cognitive impairment. Seventeen drivers with a diagnosis of early stage dementia, who had completed a comprehensive driving assessment and were cleared to drive, participated in the study. Participants had their vehicles instrumented with a suite of sensors and a data acquisition system, and drove 1-2 months as they would under normal circumstances. Data from the in-vehicle instrumentation were reduced and analyzed, using a set of algorithms/heuristics developed by the research team. Data from the early stage dementia group were compared to similar data from an existing dataset of 26 older drivers without dementia. The early stage dementia group was found to have significantly restricted driving space relative to the comparison group. At the same time, the early stage dementia group (which had been previously cleared by an occupational therapist as safe to drive) drove as safely as the comparison group. Few safety-related behavioral errors were found for either group. Wayfinding problems were rare among both groups, but the early stage dementia group was significantly more likely to get lost.
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