Driving after a suffering a stroke

March 7, 2011 3:13:14 PM PST
Surviving a stroke is hard enough, but getting back behind the wheel is harder still. Which patients are capable? A new study looked at some predictive tests.

Miriam Babad's changed walking is the result of a stroke a dozen years ago. She's behind the wheel now, but that was not the case right after her stroke.

"I needed someone to do all of my errands, and all of my goings and comings. I needed someone to take me, but even to get to the railroad you need a car," said Babad.

To make sure she could drive again, Babad underwent some tests. The study found those tests best predicted who could pass an on-road exam.

One checked hand-eye coordination and thinking with alternating dots.

Another tested spotting things out of place, such as an arrow pointing right when traffic obviously has to go left.

After suffering a stroke a patient may not be aware that they might have problem coordination their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road and their feet on the pedals.

To detect those problems, researchers used a driving simulator. The study found it was the most predictive of real world success. It can show within a split second how accurate are someone's reflexes and mind-muscle coordination.

"I look for them performing within a range that makes them look like other drivers, then that suggests they have the ability to drive," said Dr. Rosamond Gianutsos.

Reporting that someone may be driving impaired is mandatory only in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Dr. Gianutsos recommends that doctors and therapists should voluntarily send stroke survivors for testing. Patients with Alzheimer's disease or dementia can also be tested.

Special glasses helped Babad's slightly impaired vision. After passing the road tests, and brushing up on the road with a driving instructor, she returned to the road.

"Unless you're willing to walk a half a mile to a bus, you're stuck. It lets me live like a regular person. Thank God, as you see, we haven't gotten into any accidents," she said.