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Archive for Tuesday, July 30, 1991

ROAD RESPONSES

July 30, 1991

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— It's 10:10 a.m. Monday at the Kansas University Medical Center, and workers from a local salvage company are rolling a car into the hospital.

As the gray 1981 Dodge Aries glides down the hallway on its side, passersby pause and wonder out loud what a car is doing inside the med center.

"Is there a person in there?" asks one onlooker.

A parking department supervisor jokingly asks if the car has a proper permit.

Five minutes later, the engineless Dodge gets stuck going through the door to the med center's Movement Disorders Clinic.

A MAINTENANCE worker is called to remove the frame of the doorway, but it turns out the frame has been permanently welded, and there's no way to remove it.

A couple of shoves later, the car is squeezed through the doorway leaving scratches and paint marks behind.

Once the car is inside the clinic, Dr. Richard Dubinsky, director of the Movement Disorders Clinic and assistant professor of neurology, and Bradley Schnierow, a second-year medical student, scurry to put wooden blocks underneath the Dodge for balance.

Looking like a proud father, Dubinsky begins to gather the wires and cables that bring the car to life.

This car will be used for a special road test. It will help determine if people with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy should drive.

The Aries is the first completely interactive driving simulator used to study medical conditions in North America.

By 11:15, a computer that simulates road and driving conditions is set up in front of the windshield on the driver's side.

FOR DUBINSKY, the "birth" of the Aries was a long-awaited delivery.

In an interview after the car was set up, Dubinsky explained how the $30,000 simulator will be used.

Using patients from the clinic and people "from the street," meaning a control group of people without neurological disorders, Dubinsky will spend about two years studying how people with disorders respond to being on the road. Dubinsky and Schnierow hope to start their research by September.

About 2 percent of people over age 65 have Parkinson's disease, and about 50 percent of people in that age group have Alzheimer's disease, Dubinsky said.

Dubinsky said the issue of whether people with epilepsy should drive is highly controversial.

To prove his point, he said some physicians believe people should wait for three months after a seizure before driving again; others think the time period should be two years, and still others don't see a need for a waiting period in some cases.

The Aries will be used to try to determine when a patient is able to drive. The computer hooked up to the car will keep track of response times and the speed of the car. If the driver goes too fast, a policeman's siren will sound, and the computer will record a speeding ticket.

THE PEOPLE brought in to drive the car for comparison's sake will receive a monetary award for their time. But if they get a speeding ticket, part of their reward will be taken away.

Dubinsky explained the reason behind the monetary compensation: "We want them to be driving their very best."

The control group's driving results will be compared to the results of the patients.

Dubinsky said it will take a while to collect enough data to determing if and when patients with neurological disorders should be driving.

"By two years, I should be able to give them a `yes' or `no' answer," he said.

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