Do you drive?
Sunday evening, Rob and I had dinner at his mother’s house with a few family friends. We had such a lovely time that the clock seemed to speed up and before we knew it, it was 10:30PM and time to go home. I was full of yawns and ready to lay my head on a soft pillow.
My mother-in-law asked who was driving home and I answered with a pointed finger aimed in Rob’s direction. Rob replied, “Ha, I guess I’m driving.” Besides feeling tired, I knew that driving home in the dark on Sunday was not ideal. Why? Because my night vision is not what it once was and I’ve officially reached “that age” where vision changes are common. At least that’s what my optometrist informed me a few years ago.
Another reason I prefer to sit in the passenger’s seat at night is due to residual damage from a couple bouts of optic neuritis. My contrast sensitivity vision is somewhat diminished and details are difficult to see in the dark. Plus, we had taken Rob’s car anyways so it makes sense that he would drive.
Did you know that the accident rate for drivers diagnosed with MS is higher than healthy persons of the same age? About three times higher according to early research studies on the subject from Denmark (Lings, 2002) and New Jersey (Schultheis, 2002).
Common MS symptoms which may affect driving include:
- Sensory (touch) problems such as tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Visual problems such as blurred or double vision, changes in your visual field or contrast sensitivity, or a temporary loss of sight caused by optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)
- Fatigue which can make MS symptoms worse
- Loss of muscle strength, control and dexterity
- Problems with walking, balance and coordination
- Muscle spasms and stiffness (spasticity), or paralysis
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Difficulty with memory, concentration, and thinking.
Do you experience any of these symptoms? I know that I do on occasion. The only time I absolutely did not drive for an extended period of time was due to optic neuritis. In 2000, I was performing with Baltimore opera and found a colleague with whom to ride to/from rehearsals and performances.
How do you know if you should or shouldn’t be driving?
Research has found that information processing and visuospatial skills are predictive of driving performance among persons with MS. Cognitive tests, specifically the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) and the Spatial Recall Test (SPART 7/24), may be useful as screening methods for identifying the potential impact of cognitive impairment on driving (Schultheis, 2010).
However, Dr. Akinwuntan, a professor at Georgia Health Sciences University, says that the current practice is to administer 15 to 22 different tests that can last up to three hours and cost as much as $450 to patients with MS who need to be evaluated for driving appropriateness.