Driving With Multiple Sclerosis

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you have already begun to experience how this autoimmune disorder can alter your life. It can be painful, frustrating, and even debilitating. Its progressive and unpredictable nature means you are probably not only concerned about your future but also about how you will function on a day to day basis. You may fear being confined to a wheelchair and losing your independence. But for most suffers of MS, despite the difficulty of living with the disease, they never become completely disabled. This means that even if you suffer some physical, visual or cognitive deficits from MS, there is still a strong likelihood that you will be able to get behind the wheel and drive.


What is MS?

MS is caused when T cells (a type of white blood cell) mistakenly attack the cells that produce myelin, a fatty material that forms protective sheaths around nerve cells. When these cells are attacked, they form scar tissue, which can inhibit the function of the underlying nerve.

People usually first become aware that they have MS sometime between the ages of 20 and 40. One of the first things they may notice is changes in their vision. They may also begin experiencing symptoms such as tingling, numbness, pain, or weakness in their limbs. 

There is currently no cure for MS, but there are medications for the relapsing forms that can decrease the frequency and severity of bouts. Research also suggests that diet, exercise, and vitamin supplements including B and D vitamins can help to minimize symptoms.

How can MS affect my ability to drive?

Studies have shown that people with MS have a 300% greater chance of getting in a car accident than healthy drivers. The nature of their symptoms can make many of the tasks of driving very demanding. It is complicated by the unpredictability of their symptoms, which may be non-existent in the morning, but flare up later in the day. In addition, many people with MS take medication to help manage their symptoms, and some of them, like muscle relaxants, can lead to drowsiness or decreased coordination.

How MS Affects Driving Abilities

  1. Cognitively, MS may begin to cause confusion or disorientation. You can find yourself beginning to get lost more easily or forgetting where you were driving to. 
  2. Increased fatigue is common and can affect longer trips behind the wheel, or even in the passenger seat. 
  3. Decreased sensation can also make it difficult for drivers to know if they are properly gripping the steering wheel or if they have shut their door all the way.
  4. Those with MS may experience a hard time getting in and out of the car, problems with coordination, problems with the muscles, such as cramps, stiffness, weakness, or spasms that can make it harder to use the controls.
  5. A person with MS may find that they suffer from blind spots, blurred vision, double vision, and even the loss of their ability to see color.

Who Determines If I Am No Longer Fit to Drive?

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In some cases, a person with MS may feel so uncomfortable with their ability to drive that they choose on their own to give it up. Other times, their loved ones or healthcare provider may be concerned that it is no longer safe for them to be behind the wheel. In Connecticut, there are no laws that mandate medical professionals report patients who may be unable to drive due to medical conditions. If you have questions or concerns about your driving abilities, our Certified Driving Rehab Specialist can do a driving assessment to test your changing skills. Following the assessment, you will receive a full report with recommendations for your future of driving. It is important to remember that we do not report our results to the State or to the DMV. These evaluations will help improve your awareness and confidence as your abilities to drive change and progress with MS.

What Next Street Looks For When Assessing

There are several areas our CDRS will look at when you come in for an evaluation. We will check your vision, including your acuity, peripheral vision, and how well you are able to scan your surroundings. It is important to make sure that you can not only see, but properly identify and react to hazards. Your flexibility, strength, and coordination will also be assessed. Our CDRS will evaluate to see how well you can use the controls and if you are able to safely stay between the lines and change lanes. You will be assessed to see how well you can get yourself and any equipment you need in and out of a vehicle. We will also check your cognitive abilities to ensure that you have adequate judgment, awareness, and ability to remember and follow traffic laws. Finally, you will be given a behind-the-wheel driving test where we will test your practical driving skills in a variety of real world situations.


Want to read and learn more?

Check out the Driver Rehab blog to learn more about driving while aging.

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