First research grant in Traffic Medicine awarded to UCC research team

18 Oct 2016
Emmy Racine UCC, Katherine Thackerary UCC, Prof. Des O’Neill NOFM, Dr. Aisling Jennings UCC, Dr. Carol Sinnott UCC, Prof. Colin Bradley UCC, Declan Naughton RSA, Linda Horgan UCC, Dr. Siobhan Cusack UCC, Lisa MacSharry UCC, Prof. Jeanne Jackson UCC and Dr. Tony Foley UCC. (Photo: Ger MacCarty)

The €40, 000 grant was awarded by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), in association with the National Programme Office for Traffic Medicine (NPOTM) following a competitive process.

Dr Carol Sinnott and Dr Colin Bradley, Department of General Practice at University College Cork, will lead a team of five researchers, representing UCC, the ICGP and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.

The research project ‘Talking to patients with cognitive impairment about fitness to drive: Current approaches and possible improvement strategies for a general practice setting’ will investigate driving with cognitive impairment. Its main purpose is to look at how patients with cognitive impairment and GPs manage the discussion around safe driving.

Prof Desmond O’Neill, National Director NPOTM emphasizes the importance of research in the area of cognitive impairment and driving,

“A part of the success of the [Traffic Medicine] Programme on Medical Fitness to Drive in Ireland stems from its roots in evidence-based practice. It is very important that we develop research in traffic medicine in Ireland which is reflected in clinical practice, and we are delighted that this comprehensive project on cognitive impairment and driving is the focus of the first RSA Research Award in Traffic Medicine, as this is an emerging and very relevant topic to road safety and patient care.

One of the main aims of the Traffic Medicine Programme is to keep people mobile for as long as possible. In older people, driving facilitates independence, social engagement and interaction, and is a contributor to quality of life and well-being. Over one in ten adults aged over 50 years have mild or moderate cognitive impairment. Difficulties discussing fitness to drive can be compounded by the presence of unacknowledged or undiagnosed cognitive impairment (usually due to dementia and related syndromes, such a mild cognitive impairment).  However, communication techniques can be taught and can improve patient care in general practice.

Declan Naughton, Road Safety Authority welcomes today’s announcement,

“The RSA is delighted to be involved with this project. Research that provides an evidence base for future policy is critical. This research will give us an insight into the engagement between drivers and GPs at a time when drivers may be feeling vulnerable. Understanding and responding to any barriers to this conversation, happening in a positive environment will benefit both drivers and their doctors.” 

Both the approaches currently used by GPs and the experiences that patients with cognitive impairment have had when discussing fitness to drive with their GPs will be explored by carrying out separate sets of interviews with patients or their carers. The data from both sets of interviews will then be merged and used to develop new training materials for GPs. This research will address an urgent need for better communication strategies, which will help GPs discuss cognitive impairment and fitness to drive in a positive proactive way and encourage early assessments of fitness to drive which will maximise safety for the patient and other road users nationally.

Dr Carol Sinnott, co-lead of the research team is looking forward to beginning the study, “We are delighted to have been given this wonderful opportunity to investigate an area of traffic medicine that is so necessary and is intended to help to keep people driving safely for longer.”

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