Do Visual Attention and Imagery Deficits Affect Driving in Parkinsonism?

Anna M. Barrett, M.D.

Penn State College of Medicine, Pennsylvania

Abstract

Driving abilities decline with age in healthy individuals, more so in patients with neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Dr. Anna M. Barrett (Penn State, Hershey) and her collaborators will test 24 diagnosed PD patients (with 24 matched control subjects) on visual-attention tasks, cognitive tests, and automobile driving evaluations. Subjects will also be asked to evaluate their own performance in these areas.

Dr. Barrett and her coworkers hope to learn whether specific visual-attention tasks can predict driving disability. They also hope to learn by correlating participants' evaluations with their actual performance whether subjects are aware of any performance problems. The researchers hope that better safety recommendations may be standardized for treating neurologists and others who advise patients if they should or should not continue driving.

Progress Report (as of 3/2003)

At Penn State, Dr. Anna M. Barrett and her group created a letter-reading test and a computerized test of “field of view” that was meant to evaluate how people spread their attention over large areas. This and several other tasks were administered to PD patients, aged control subjects as well as younger controls, in order to determine how these personal functions related to driving abilities. They are presently performing double-blinded scoring of their data to confirm the reliability of these tests and hope to be able to suggest them as a more useful screening tool for other clinical centers.