American Heart Association infographic, used with permission

American Heart Association infographic, used with permission

“Drivers who survived a recent stroke were more likely than other drivers to make serious driving errors,” according to two small studies, Kathleen Doheny reports for WebMD. When tested on driving simulators, stroke survivors were also more likely to get into crashes, Doheny writes.

The findings of both studies were presented on Wednesday at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, writes Health Day News, in an article appearing on MPR. In one study, Megan A. Hird, a graduate student at the University of Toronto and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and her colleagues compared the driving simulator test results of 10 people who had suffered mild ischemic strokes within the past seven days, with 10 healthy people similar in age and education, MPR writes. The stroke patients had twice as many driving errors as the healthy people, MPR writes. “They were also about four times as likely as the healthy people to make mistakes when they were told to follow a bus, a task that requires significant attention,” MPR writes.

The second study, led by Hird’s colleague Kristin A. Vesely, using a driving simulator, compared the driving abilities of nine patients who had suffered a a type of bleeding stroke known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage (which takes longer to recover from than a mild ischemic stroke), with nine people who had not had a stroke, MPR writes. The testing was done more than three months following the strokes, MPR writes, and found that the test subjects who had suffered the strokes had more than twice the number of collisions as the healthy people, MPR writes. And those who had had a stroke were three times more likely to drive outside of road lines. They also made more errors when making left turns, the study found.

An American Heart Association press release about the studies quotes both of the research team leaders:

‘Current guidelines recommend that patients should refrain from driving for a minimum of one month after stroke. However, many patients resume driving within the one-month period after stroke, and few patients report receiving driving advice from a physician immediately post-stroke,’ said Megan A. Hird, B.Sc., lead author of one of the abstracts and a master’s student at University of Toronto doing research at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada.

More research is required to better characterize the driving performance of patients after stroke, so that healthcare professionals can better assess when it’s safe for stroke patients to resume driving.’

Vesely said:

’Today’s physician guidelines for assessing these patients’ driving ability do not provide objective, office-based assessment tools to help physicians identify unsafe drivers,’ Vesely said. ‘Future studies should explore driving ability in a larger group of subarachnoid hemorrhage patients, to more clearly determine driving recommendations post-stroke. We need to understand which clinical characteristics can help predict certain driving impairments, leading to more targeted assessment and rehabilitation programs for individuals who may be able to safely resume driving.’

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