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MIT AgeLab unveils new support materials on driving, Alzheimer's and dementia

When is the right time to stop driving?

The MIT AgeLab, in collaboration with The Hartford Financial Services Group, today unveiled new materials to help families and caregivers determine when it is time for people suffering from dementia to stop driving.

The materials, including an updated edition of the booklet "At the Crossroads: Family Conversations about Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia & Driving," were released at a major conference held today at MIT, in conjunction with the start of National Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

"Decisions about driving are intensely personal, yet they have profound public implications," said Joseph F. Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT AgeLab. "Our goal is to help families and caregivers manage the transition from driver to passenger."

The materials being released are the result of a two-year study by the MIT AgeLab, The Hartford Financial Services Group, and the Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center. Researchers found that people suffering from Alzheimer's disease or other causes of dementia--more than 5 million people in the United States--are driving an average of nine months longer than their caregivers think is safe.

Yet according to Lisa D'Ambrosio, a research scientist at the MIT AgeLab who helped direct the study, "there is no simple system in place to determine when someone with dementia should stop driving and few resources available to help caregivers handle that transition themselves."

To address this gap, researchers developed a first-of-its-kind caregivers course, At the Crossroads: The Support Group Kit on Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia and Driving, that will help family members decide when and how individuals with dementia should limit or stop driving.

Key organizations, including the Alzheimer's Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association, will make this tool available to their caregiver support groups, and it can also be ordered online free of charge at

"Our goal is to help caregivers develop a plan to gradually move the person from driver to passenger and identify alternative transportation," said Jodi Olshevski, MS, corporate gerontologist for The Hartford. "We help them find ways to get their loved one to stop driving, but not stop living."

The guide is one of several research and public education products produced by the nearly ten year partnership between the MIT Age Lab and The Hartford, addressing critical issues facing older people, including transportation, caregiving, retirement, and catastrophe planning.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 14, 2007 (download PDF).

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