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Stroke Survivors Getting Behind the Wheel Without Evaluation

A stroke can affect a person's ability to speak, think, see and control the body. Yet stroke survivors often resume driving without being formally evaluated, according to new research.

Fewer than 6 percent of stroke survivors said they received a formal driving evaluation in the new survey, yet more than 51 percent returned to driving, many of them a month after suffering a stroke. Of those who took to the road, 31 percent reported that their strokes had "some effect" on basic activities of daily living, such as feeding, bathing and dressing oneself. Eleven percent reported the stroke had "great effect."

"Given the severity of stroke for some of these patients, it really surprised me that they would actually be able to get behind the wheel," said Dr. Shelly Ozark, a professor of neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina and lead researcher on the survey of 162 stroke survivors in South Carolina presented Thursday at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference.

Ozark said all stroke patients should be evaluated before driving again. The American Stroke Association doesn't go that far — saying stroke victims should consult their physicians, who may suggest an evaluation.

Most drivers who reported that a stroke had some or great effect on daily activities also limited their driving. That often means driving close to home or only to church or the grocery store. But self-imposed limits may not do much good for those survivors with substantial deficits, Ozark said: "They could be putting themselves and others in danger."

Stroke survivors can get retested by State Departments of Motor Vehicles or visit a private driving rehabilitation specialist. Sometimes a stroke victim's car can be refitted to make it easier to drive. In most states, this would be voluntary.

"There basically isn't anything on the books in the majority of states that demands people get retested in their driving abilities following a major health event such as stroke," Ozark said.