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Stroke survivors more likely to make driving mistakes: Canadian study

WATCH ABOVE: Megan Hird, a student researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, explains the results of a study involving the driving performance of patients who were within one month of having a stroke compared to healthy drivers.

New Canadian research suggests that drivers who have had a recent stroke are more likely than their healthy counterparts to make mistakes behind the wheel.

Doctors at St. Michael’s Hospital say that one month post-stroke, patients have trouble driving within their designated lanes or taking on left-hand turns at busy intersections, for example.

It was the “complex tasks” that were the most taxing, the researchers noted. Stroke survivors were able to maintain speed and come to a complete stop, but managing traffic and making snap decisions were tricky.

“Patients actually tended to make almost twice as many errors as [the healthy control group] across the entire driving scenario, so this included speed.., lane deviations, even collisions,” Megan Hird, the study’s lead author, told Global News.
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Hird is a University of Toronto master’s student conducting her research at St. Michael’s Hospital.

READ MORE: New study urges pregnant women to be more diligent behind the wheel

WATCH: Kristin Vesely, a student researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, explains the results of a study involving a subarachnoid hemorrhage on patient’s driving abilities.

Her findings are based on the driving performance of 10 stroke patients next to 10 healthy counterparts who were similar in age and education level. Using driving simulation technology, the study participants took on several driving tasks, such as left and right turns, left turns with traffic (which is when most accidents occur), and following another vehicle.

The stroke patients had a sub-type of stroke, called subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is caused by a rupture of a cerebral aneurysm. It typically affects people between 40 and 60 years old.

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“Because of their young age, they’re very motivated to return to driving,” Hird explained.

READ MORE: Canadian research could pave the way to new stroke treatment

Hird suggests the research is shining a light on the need to better understand the driving performances of patients post-stroke. That way, health care professionals can assess when it’s safe for stroke patients to return to driving.

Right now, current guidelines advise against driving one month post-stroke. But many patients return to driving within that timeframe anyway, and few patients report talking to their doctors about driving post-stroke.

READ MORE: Some Canadians misunderstanding stroke recovery process

“The results of this study reinforce the importance of physicians discussing driving with their patients, particularly in the acute phase of recovery. The patients in this study had very minor strokes and actually appeared to have completely recovered, yet they still made errors during more demanding aspects of driving,” Hird said.

WATCH: Megan Hird, a student researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, says doctors need more tools to better decide whether a stroke patient is ready to resume driving or not.

Her study accompanies further research out of the Toronto hospital that was released Wednesday. This time, researchers found that even three months down the road after a stroke, patients still made errors when it came to left turns.

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READ MORE: Pay attention to stroke warning signs, Heart and Stroke Foundation says

The pair of Canadian findings were presented Wednesday afternoon at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2015.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca