A new study, published in BioMed Central (BMC), has found that certain driving behaviours are linked to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers placed GPS tracking devices in the vehicles of 139 drivers aged 65 and over. Of these participants, 64 individuals had a diagnosis of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease while the remaining 75 did not.

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The study took place across a one-year timespan, allowing the researchers to closely monitor the natural driving habits of each participant.

The data was then analysed and researchers discovered that those with a preclinical Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis tended to drive more slowly, make abrupt changes, travel less at night, and logged fewer miles overall. They also visited a smaller variety of destinations when driving, sticking to slightly more confined routes.

The forecasting model proved to be 86% accurate

Using the data provided, the researchers were able to design a model that could forecast someone's likelihood of having preclinical Alzheimer's using just their age and their GPS driving data. It proved to be 86% accurate.

The model’s accuracy grew further when it also added in the results of a genetic test for Alzheimer's, known as the APOE genotype test, that indicates whether you may have an inherited risk for the disease. However, it’s worth nothing that this group only represents some of the people who eventually go on to develop Alzheimer's disease.

A "non-invasive, accessible" method of detection 

The authors hope the forecasting model could be used in practice as a non-medical early detection method; as the study concludes: "Overall, although the model with driving behaviour, age, and APOE ε4 status achieved the highest performance, the model with driving indicators and age alone is the highest performing non-invasive and accessible choice.

"This finding is important because, given the small size and ease of installation of vehicle GPS trackers, they can be mailed to clinics and individuals, allowing widespread use in different environments (i.e. urban and rural)."

However, as this study used only a relatively small sample of drivers, larger studies will need to be conducted to prove a definitive link between driving habits and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.