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June 1997

Reliability of the Washington University Road Test: A Performance-Based Assessment for Drivers With Dementia of the Alzheimer Type

Arch Neurol. 1997;54(6):707-712. doi:10.1001/archneur.1997.00550180029008

Objective:  To assess the reliability and stability of a standardized road test for healthy aging people and those with dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT).

Design:  A prospective study involving patients with DAT and age-matched healthy controls in which subjects' driving performance was evaluated by several raters in an initial and a follow-up road test.

Setting:  Urban medical school and urban highways and streets.

Subjects:  A convenience sample of 58 controls, 36 subjects with very mild DAT, and 29 subjects with mild DAT. Results: Analysis of road test ability of controls (2 subjects [3%] failed the test), very mild DAT subjects (7 subjects [19%] failed), and mild DAT subjects (12 subjects [41%] failed) disclosed a significant association between driving performance and dementia status (X2[4] =20.65 [N=123];P<.001; Kendallτ-b=0.306). Interrater reliability for assessment of driving performance ranged from k=0.85 to 0.96. One-month test-retest stability on the road test was 0.76 (quantitative scoring) and 0.53 (clinical judgment).

Conclusions:  Dementia adversely affects driving performance even in its mild stages, although some persons with DAT seem to drive safely for some time after disease onset. A traffic-interactive, performance-based road test that examines cognitive behaviors provides an accurate and reliable functional assessment of driving ability.