For about 50 years, Wayne Hykaway navigated life with a co-pilot.
“Whenever we would travel, she would be the one reading the map.”
But in her late 50s, his wife Judy developed symptoms of dementia. It was a diagnosis that would eventually steal much of her freedom and independence before she lost her life two years ago.
“Her depth perception was off, her concentration was off, and it got pretty risky for her to drive,” said Hykaway.
“She wasn’t happy about it, but she understood. It was not safe anymore.”
It’s a move not every driver is so willing to make. And that’s why researchers at the University of Calgary are creating a device to make the decision more black and white.
“Physicians usually use a cognitive assessment, with pen and paper usually, to determine whether a driver is fit to drive. But these assessments are very limited,” said Dr. Sayeh Bayat, an assistant professor in both the University of Calgary’s department of biomedical engineering and geomatics engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering.
Bayat recently received funding from the Alzheimer’s Association and Brain Canada, where her team will work alongside researchers at Sunnybrook Hospital and Baycrest Health Services in Toronto, to develop a mobile tech solution for aiding decision-making about driving for people with dementia.
They’re recruiting a total of 60 drivers to test the technology in Calgary and Toronto.
It will combine novel technologies like GPS and video with machine learning to detect subtle changes in driving behaviour.
“We want to ensure their safety but also balance it with their autonomy and their independence,” said Bayat.
The study is expected to begin in June, monitoring drivers for about eight weeks. Bayat suggests the devices could eventually be permanently installed for drivers looking to monitor the progression of their illness.