Thank you for signing up to participate in our driving study. You may have questions. We have answers!
Why study driving?
There are about 38-million older adult drivers in the United States. It is essential to keep driving as a safe activity both for these adults and for others on the road. It is also important to find ways to keep older adults active, and driving is such a critical piece of independence for so many people.
Additionally, driving is a very complex task. You have to be able to see what is going on in different directions, pay attention to what is going on around you, watch your mirrors, pay attention to what you hear on the road or from a passenger, turn your body to be able to see in different directions, respond quickly both mentally and physically to changes in the environment, etc. We chose to look at driving because it is an everyday task that uses many different skills and is a meaningful activity of daily living. While many abilities stay intact in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, we wanted to see how people are affected when they are completing more complicated tasks.
Why are we studying cognitively normal older adults when we want to know about Alzheimer’s disease?
We want to look at driving in older adulthood, from around age 60 through driving cessation. Specifically, we want to see how preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and later symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease affect driving. In order to look at this, we need plenty of cognitively healthy older adults to help us in these discoveries.
In particular, we want to look at preclinical AD. Preclinical AD is an early period of the disease in which there are not recognized cognitive symptoms (forgetfulness, problems with thinking, memory loss) but there are signs of the disease already in the brain. About 30% of older adults have signs of preclinical AD. We can measure these signs through biomarkers, which are measurements that show particular proteins in the brain. We measure these proteins [amyloid beta (Aβ) and tau] by analyzing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) taken through a lumbar puncture or images of the brain taken with MRI, CT, or PET scans. The CSF can show us how much Aβ and tau are in the brain, but the brain images can show us exactly where those proteins are deposited. Both are very helpful measurements that allow us to look at things in slightly different ways.
What will you do if you come in for our study?
Ahead of your scheduled session, you will receive a packet with directions to the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), a letter with your scheduled time confirmed, and a few questionnaires. We ask that you fill out the questionnaires ahead of coming to the ADRC. This allows you to do it at your convenience and saves you from being at our office too long.
When you arrive on the day of your session, we’ll meet you in the waiting room on the first floor of the ADRC and will escort you upstairs to our office. We will go over the informed consent form which explains the study and answer any questions you might have before signing it. Then you will complete a number of brief paper and pencil tasks, as well as computer and oral tasks. We will go through testing of your visual skills, hearing, smell, motor skills, visual attention, and mood. All of this usually takes about 60-90 minutes.
Next, we will install a small electronic device in your vehicle. This allows us to see how people drive in their everyday life. This is the same type of device that is used by insurance companies (we do NOT give any information to insurance or your physician!), as well as companies with large fleets of vehicles (shipping companies, postal companies, etc). We call this device the DRIVES Chip (Driving Real-world In-Vehicle Evaluation System). It gives us information about speed, hard breaking, sudden acceleration, impact, time of day, and location. It lets us create a driving profile for each participant, giving us an idea of how often they drive, how far they drive from home, how often they speed, what times of day they do or do not drive, etc. It does not contain any audio or visual recordings but simply records information from the vehicle itself. Rather than looking at any particular day or time, we are more interested in changes over time. Is someone driving less often, less far, at specific times of day, more or less carefully, etc.
Finally, you’ll be introduced to our driving evaluator. You will go out on the road with him and drive in regular traffic, but you will not be asked to drive on the highway. Your drive should last from 45-60 minutes.
About the lumbar puncture
Here is a short and elegant video about the lumbar puncture procedure.
About the MRI procedure
Here is a short and elegant video about the MRI procedure.
Fact sheet on PET Imaging
Fact sheet on MRI Imaging