Let's be serious for a moment. Dementia can afflict anyone in their advancing years and the symptoms usually crop up when the condition becomes more serious. But recently, a study claims it can be detected at an earlier stage through driving habits.

The study is called the Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers or LongROAD. Since driving is a complex task, it's considered an effective way to see if there is any decrease in cognitive functions. For this research tracked about 3,000 senior drivers (65 to 79 years old) for four years. During that time, they diagnosed 33 subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and another 31 with dementia.

According to Sharon Di, the lead author of the new study, “Based on variables obtained from naturalistic driving data and basic demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, and level of education, we can predict mild cognitive impairment and dementia. with an accuracy of 88%". That said, it was 66 % when it came to driving variables only.

“Our study shows that naturalistic driving behavior can be used as a comprehensive and reliable marker for mild cognitive impairment and dementia. If validated, the algorithm developed in this study could provide a new, distraction-free screening tool for early detection and management of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older drivers," added Dr. Guohua Li, the senior author of the study.

But how exactly did they come up with the data? The doctors and researchers gathered the percentage of trips traveled within 15 miles (24 kilometers) of home, race/ethnicity, minutes per trip chain (i.e., length of trips starting and ending at home), minutes per trip, and instances of hard braking events with deceleration rates over 0.35 g. What does that mean? If travel times within a certain distance take too long or end up with many long detours, there might be something going on with the person's memory. Meanwhile, the sudden brake measurements might indicate slower reflexes. Granted, reflexes slow down with age, but it's something worth looking into if hard braking occurs far too often.

So far, the research team said that they need more data for a more conclusive result. That said, the study looks promising, allowing earlier detection and better care for those afflicted by the illness. While there is no cure for dementia yet, it's good to know that doctors are finding more ways to ease it for those who have it and their families.