Parkinson's Disease and Driving
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that interferes with dopamine-producing neurons. People with PD may experience symptoms related to movement, vision, and cognition. Any of these symptoms may affect driving.
How Does Parkinson’s Disease Affect Driving?
Movement-related symptoms could make getting into and out of a car challenging.
- Opening a car door and taking a step back may cause loss of balance.
- Turning to sit in the car seat or lifting a leg into the car may also interfere with balance and stability.
Slow movements might affect one’s ability to react to hazards.
PD may affect a wide range of visual skills. Visual changes in Parkinson’s disease may interfere with:
- Depth perception
- Visual-spatial skills
- Contrast sensitivity
- Visual scanning
Depth perception and visual-spatial deficits may make it difficult to stop at an appropriate distance behind vehicles or stop lines. These same visual skills are used to align a vehicle in a parking space or stay within the lane.
Driving at twilight or in fog may be challenging for people with decreased contrast sensitivity (Uc et al., 2009). Contrast sensitivity is the ability to distinguish an object from the background.
People with PD may also experience slower glancing eye movements for scanning the roadway. This may cause them to miss landmarks and traffic signs (Uc et al., 2006).
PD may affect cognitive skills for driving.
People with PD may experience a decline in their ability to multi-task or divide their attention. These skills are used when driving in complex environments, when conversing with a passenger, and when navigating to unfamiliar destinations. During navigation, drivers split their attention between driving or paying attention to changes in the environment and looking for navigational signs. A driver with PD may make driving errors while navigating.
Can I Drive With Parkinson’s Disease?
If you, a significant other, or family member have concerns about driving, it is best to discuss driving with the physician who is treating PD. The physician might refer you to an occupational therapist or an occupational therapist that specializes in driving rehabilitation. These professionals can assess driving abilities.
They may use clinical assessment tools to test vision, cognitive, and physical skills for driving. They might also evaluate driving skills with a driving simulator or a dual controlled vehicle.
For individuals that would benefit, most driving rehabilitation programs offer interventions. Interventions can include adaptive equipment to compensate for physical deficits, or strategies to manage vision and cognitive challenges.
Uc, E. Y., Rizzo, M., Anderson, S. W., Sparks, J., Rodnitzky, R. L., & Dawson, J. D. (2006). Impaired visual search in drivers with Parkinson’s disease. Ann Neurol, 60(4), 407-413.
Uc, E. Y., Rizzo, M., Anderson, S. W., Dastrup, E., Sparks, J. D., & Dawson, J. D. (2009). Driving under low-contrast visibility conditions in Parkinson’s disease. Neurology, 73, 1103-1110.