Stroke Patients May Need to Put the Brakes on Driving

Stroke patients were more likely to make hazardous driving mistakes than patients who had not had strokes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While some stroke survivors may resume routine activities, not all return to their normal abilities. Even a mild stroke can make driving a dangerous proposition.

Several health organizations, such as the Stroke Association in UK, advise that patients wait at least one month after a stroke before driving again. New research has found that even this may not be long enough.

Patients who have had a mild stroke may still have more problems with driving after a month than those who have not had a stroke, a new study found.

Megan A. Hird, BSc, a master’s student at the University of Toronto doing research at St. Michael’s Hospital, was the lead author of this study. Hird and team assessed the driving of 10 mild ischemic stroke patients. Ischemic strokes result from a blockage in a blood vessel that brings blood to the brain.

“Our study suggests that even patients with mild deficits may experience driving impairment, particularly during more cognitively demanding driving situations,” Hird said in a press release. “Current guidelines recommend that patients should refrain from driving for a minimum of one month after stroke. However, many patients resume driving within the one-month period after stroke, and few patients report receiving driving advice from a physician immediately post-stroke.”

Within seven days of having a stroke, study patients took several driving tests using a type of driving simulator. These tests included routine right and left turns, as well as more demanding actions like a left turn with traffic and an exercise following a bus that required sustained focus.

Compared to a control group of nonstroke patients, the stroke patients made more than double the driving mistakes.

Hird and colleagues noted that these mild stroke patients made more errors during left turns with traffic. They were also almost four times more likely than those who hadn't had a stroke to make driving errors during the bus-following exercise.

In a related study, Kristin A. Vesely, BSc, a master’s student at the University of Toronto, and colleagues assessed driving in nine patients who had a another type of stroke called a subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the space between the brain and the thin tissues that cover the brain).

These researchers tested the patients' driving at least three months after their strokes and compared the results with nine nonstroke patients.

Compared to the control group, these stroke patients had more than double the wrecks in a driving simulation. They were also three times more likely to drive outside road lines.

Vesely and team also noted that the stroke patients had more trouble with the most mentally demanding driving actions. These actions included left turns and left turns with oncoming traffic.

“We need to understand which clinical characteristics can help predict certain driving impairments, leading to more targeted assessment and rehabilitation programs for individuals who may be able to safely resume driving,” Vesely said in a press release.

Both studies were presented Feb. 11 at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2015 in Nashville, TN. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation funded both studies. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 11, 2015
Last Updated:
February 14, 2015