Currently, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 55 million people around the world are living with dementia a new case is diagnosed every three seconds. Although there are many forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is considered the most common and currently affects more than 6.5 million Americans. Alzheimer’s disease causes both cognitive and physical symptoms that worsen over time and eventually affect every area of a person’s life. Now experts are raising awareness about one change in particular that is both physical and cognitive — and can manifest itself when you park your car. Read on to find out what symptom may be putting you at risk behind the wheel and why it’s critical to talk to your doctor if you notice it.
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Even in its earliest stages, Alzheimer’s disease can present a wide variety of symptoms. According to Verna PorterMD, a neurologist and director of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and neurocognitive impairment at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, worsening cognitive problems are typically one of the most obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. “Dementia is characterized by a marked, persistent, and disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities, such as memory, language, judgment, or abstract reasoning, which significantly interferes with and disrupts your normal daily activities,” explains Porter.
While people may experience mild memory changes as a normal part of aging, the neurologist says this is very different from dementia. When normal aging is to blame, “memories have little impact on your daily life, or your ability to perform the usual chores, tasks, and routines of our daily lives.”
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One notable cognitive change that is common in people with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias is that they have difficulty with visual-spatial processing. This symptom occurs when the brain has difficulty processing information about three-dimensional objects and interpreting spatial relationships. When this type of processing is impeded, it becomes difficult to orient ourselves to our surroundings and judge how far away objects are. Have impaired visuospatial processing can make parking a car difficulteven in the earliest stages of AD, the Alzheimer’s Society warns.
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Many people with dementia experience changes in their vision. However, the Alzheimer’s Society warns that even if a person’s eyes are still physically healthy, “their vision can be affected if the brain is damaged.”
The organization explains why this can happen: “Different parts of the brain process different types of information. The occipital lobes at the back of the brain process visual information. If the occipital lobes become damaged, a person may find it difficult to work out what they see for themselves. This causes misconceptions,” say their experts.
They add that the brain’s temporal and parietal lobes are also involved in judging distances (as well as recognizing faces and objects), meaning you can notice changes with visuos-spatial perception as these parts of the brain get damaged.
Experts say if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of dementia, including new problems parking your car, it’s critical to get your driving skills evaluated immediately. That’s because the same changes that affect your parking ability can put you at risk along the way, too. Porter says: best life that visuospatial decline and poor reaction time “may manifest relatively early in the disease,” meaning you could be at increased risk of a car accident even without other noticeable symptoms of AD.
However, some people with Alzheimer’s may be able to keep driving with frequent evaluations from their doctor. “A diagnosis of dementia does not necessarily mean that a person can no longer drive safely† In the early stages of dementia, some, but not all, individuals may still have the skills needed to drive safely,” explains the Family Caregiver Alliance, a resource for the families of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms. of dementia.” Most dementia, however, is progressive, meaning that symptoms such as memory loss, visual-spatial disorientation, and impaired cognitive function will worsen over time. This also means that a person’s driving skills will decline and he or she will eventually have to stop driving.”
Because people with Alzheimer’s disease are often unaware of the severity of their own symptoms, it is important that others be involved in this decision. “Families and caregivers may need to intervene when a person’s symptoms pose too great a traffic risk,” the organization advises.
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about whether you or a loved one can continue to drive safely, or if you notice any new problems parking your car.