Tell me how you drive and I’ll tell you if you get dementia, the American study of 3,000 motorists

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Tell me how you drive and I will tell you if you will experience dementia. At least according to research from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, not all data collections come to harm. On the contrary. According to the preliminary results, which have already been published in the American Geriatrics Journal, by combining information such as age, sex and educational qualification with the management methods (obtained from the “black boxes” connected to vehicle assistance systems), an early diagnosis of dementia or, in any case, the deterioration of cognitive abilities with an accuracy of 88%. The figure was confirmed by Sharon Di, lead author of the study.

The research involved just under 3,000 motorists residing on the other side of the Atlantic (2,977 to be precise) whose driving behavior was monitored between August 2015 and March 2019. The age of the drivers was included between 65 and 79 years: none – the scholars report – manifested particular disorders at the time of the research.

For 33 motorists, the researchers were able to predict mild ailments, while for another 31, dementia. The new algorithm has a much higher level of reliability than those developed so far. Which reach 29% or 66% depending on whether they are based on demographic characteristics or driving variables. By crossing each other, the researchers hope to have been able to identify a set of reliable indicators for early diagnosis of the disease.

Some seem too trivial, starting with the type of use of the car. Its less use on the motorway and at night, a certain type of braking, the frequency of stops or the duration and length of journeys already seem to say a lot. The variables identified by the scholars are 29. Gouhua Li, “senior author”, anticipated a possible non-intrusive screening “if the algorithm is confirmed”.

At least for the moment, the analysis is based on “American” criteria and it is not certain that it can be easily exported to Europe. Or in Italy, where it is estimated that there are over one million patients afflicted with dementia, 600 thousand of whom with Alzheimer’s. The research is anything but an end in itself given the progressive aging of the population, a particularly significant phenomenon in the beautiful country. Not for nothing, already after the age of 50 the renewal of the license takes place after only 5 years. Driving behavior, which is generally natural and not induced, is a thermometer of health conditions because to be behind the wheel it is necessary to combine dynamic cognitive skills with essential functions and motor perceptions. The research was supported by the Foundation for Traffic Safety.

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