HALIFAX – More than two years ago, occupational therapist Sherry Mourant had a stroke that affected the left side of her body. Luckily, she responded well to surgery and has had a relatively quick recovery.
But when it came to getting back behind the wheel, she knew she had to consult a doctor first.
“I think sometimes people are fearful to discuss driving with their physicians for fear that the doctors going to tell them that they can’t drive because driving takes away so much independence for a lot of people,” she said.
Her doctor told her to wait three months before resuming driving. To be safe, Mourant even decided to get a neuropsychological assessment to make sure she didn’t have any issues that would hinder her driving.
“To be honest when I first returned to driving, I did notice that I had to be much more diligent about being more aware of all the other traffic and pedestrians,” she said. “I think we all take it for granted, when we drive, how many things we have to be aware of.”
New Canadian research now suggests drivers who have had a recent stroke are more likely to make mistakes while driving, especially when completing complex tasks.
A pair of findings from Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital were presented on Wednesday at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2015.
Researchers used a driving simulator to test patients who had recently suffered a stroke.
“Patients who are within one month of having a minor stroke made more errors —; including driving outside of their lanes —; than healthy drivers in situations that require a lot of cognitive effort and decision making, such as left-hand turns in busy intersections,” said Megan Hird, a student researcher at St. Michael’s.
The research focused on patients who had experienced a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which typically affects people aged 40 to 60.
“Because of their young age, they’re very motivated to return to driving,” Hird said.
The researchers said the goal is to eventually help physicians create accurate assessments of determining when it is safe to get back behind the wheel.
“Moving forward, we need to do some larger studies of driving simulation to better characterize those outcomes and determine how we can best predict how a patient’s driving would be affected,” said fellow student researcher Kristin Vesely.
With files from Carmen Chai and Kathlene Calahan