Can Alzheimer's Drug Extend the period of safe driving for Elderly patients

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John Hopkins

Is New Alzheimer’s Medication the Silver Bullet for Keeping Senior Drivers On the Road? Stay Tuned.

» Written by // July 16, 2007 //

As Florida authorities struggle with keeping drivers with dementia off the roads, one courageous drug research project is exploring helping Alzheimer’s patients maintain their driving privileges for a longer period of time.

The rationale makes sense: senior citizens who must give up driving give up their independence, and for many, it’s the first step toward a nursing home.

On the other hand, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles calls unsafe elderly drivers one of the most critical situations facing the state. A 2004 report estimates that there are more than 2.2 million drivers between 65 and 74 on the road, and another quarter of a million 85 or older – 20 percent of whom suffer from dementia.

At Florida Atlantic University’s Memory and Wellness Center in Boca Raton, researchers have partnered with a New York pharmaceutical company that makes an FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug. Their goal is to see if taking this drug in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can extend the period of safe driving for patients 60 and over.

This is an experiment to watch carefully, because the number of Alzheimer’s victims will explode in the next few years as our population ages. I can’t help but be wary of yet another pharmaceutical company campaign promoting magic pills. In this case – unlike with Vioxx and other widely-heralded “silver bullets” – the victims are not the pill poppers themselves. They are the hundreds of Floridians killed or maimed each year by elderly drivers with dementia.

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