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Parkinson’s Disease and Car Accidents

As the baby boomer generation ages and overall life expectancy rises thanks to advances in the medical sciences, one of the major issues that policy makers are contending with is if and when older people and those with age-related health conditions should stop driving.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 14 percent of deaths from unintentional injury among persons aged 65 and over were caused by car accidents.

When to Stop

Driving is not only fun but is also one of the major symbols of personal independence.

For elderly individuals who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), there will be a reluctance to let go even when doctors and loved ones advise against driving. No one would want to become a burden to the people around them by requiring someone to drive them anytime they need to go somewhere.

Yet, it is important that individuals with PD that are judged to be unable to drive, stop doing so as this endangers not only them but also other road users. This is why it is incumbent on family members and other caregivers to be on the lookout for early signs of driving problems. It is a sensitive matter that requires persuading the person driving that they need to stop.

Source of Impairment

The question of whether to drive or not is particularly important for persons with PD since their impairment can originate from two fronts: the medical condition itself and the drugs used to manage it.

PD causes a steady decline in cognition and motor skills. This makes driving unsafe. A difficulty in perceiving spaces, estimating distance and distinguishing shapes would curtail the driver’s ability to respond to a traffic light, stop sign or another driver’s lane change.

PD is also marked by muscle rigidity. This can make it difficult for the driver to quickly react to road conditions. This is an extremely dangerous predicament since the core attribute of safe driving is the capacity to respond rapidly (both physically and mentally) to dynamic road situations.

The drugs used to manage PD are a risk factor on the road. Some medications may cause confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, sleepiness, memory impairment and other side effects that diminish the driver’s capabilities.

It is important to note that not everyone with PD will experience challenges with driving. Different patients will experience these debilitating symptoms and side-effects to varying degrees. Medication side effects in particular will not affect everybody and even when they do, they can be reduced by adjusting the dosage accordingly.

Risk Assessment

The American Medical Association has developed a questionnaire and a scoring system for use by doctors in order to determine the driving risk of elderly persons.

The questions are non-technical and have even been posted on the NHTSA website. Therefore, persons with PD together with their families can answer the questions and make their own preliminary determination as to their driving abilities.

PD patients who score poorly on the questionnaire but are still not willing to let go of the wheel should be urged by their family to speak to a doctor for a more comprehensive examination. The doctor may suggest several alternatives. They could recommend visiting a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS) or signing up for a driver safety class.

The DRS’ services can be costly but has the advantage of including a personalized assessment of the individual’s driving skills. Thereafter, the assessor can craft an appropriate rehabilitation program and (if necessary) recommend vehicle modifications. A driving safety class on the other hand is much cheaper but lacks the detailed assessment and rehabilitation of the DRS service.

Persons with PD who are highly confident about their driving abilities can request for a driving test from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The catch here is that failing the test will automatically lead to a revocation of the driving license.

Also Read: 10 Tips for How to Handle A Car Accident

Consult with an Experienced Leifer & Ramirez Boca Raton Car Accident Lawyer

If you have had an accident and the at fault driver is a person with Parkinson’s Disease or other medical impairment, get in touch with an expert Boca Raton car accident attorney at Leifer & Ramirez. It is within your right to pursue compensation from the other party if you have been injured or your property damaged. Call us today.

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