September 26, 2023

Nationwide population study finds high relative risk of traffic crashes among the elderly with ADHD, but with very low frequency, muddling interpretation of the results

Researchers from the Swedish Department of Global Public Health, the Swedish Transport Agency, and the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute collaborated in a nationwide population study of motor vehicle crashes among the elderly, defined as 65 and older.

They availed themselves of the country's all-encompassing national registers to identify the anonymized records of all such drivers from 2011 through 2016. That enabled them to compare crash records of those with known driving-impairing conditions with matched drivers who had no record of such conditions.

They looked only at road traffic crashes that resulted in injury to the driver or a passenger. For anyone with multiple crash records, they only looked at the first.

This was a case-control study, with two controls matched to each case wherever possible. For every case of a 65 or older driver involved in an injurious crash, the team randomly matched two individual controls by sex, birth year, municipality of residence, and other medical conditions. Place of residence was used to distinguish residents of large cities, who would tend to drive less frequently and in denser traffic, from those in small towns and rural areas. To minimize controls that never drive, only those with a driver's license and car were considered.

Of the thirteen medical conditions examined, elderly drivers with "ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and similar conditions" had by far the highest odds of being in crashes that resulted in injury "at almost three times the rate of those without those conditions."

But note carefully the serious limitations in the data:

  • ADHD was bundled in with autism spectrum disorder and "similar conditions", making an unalloyed evaluation impossible.
  • Out of a total of 13,701 crashes, only 26 involved any of these conditions.
  • Because of the small number, the two-for-one matching broke down completely. Only 17 matched controls could be found, less than a third of the target of 52.
  • That means that despite a nationwide sample involving over 40,000 cases and controls, the sample size for "ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and similar conditions" was only 43.
The authors noted that while the high odds ratio "for ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and similar conditions, are in line with previous studies on young adult drivers and adult drivers in this recent cohort of older, Swedish adults, such conditions are very uncommon compared to younger adults, suggesting likely under-diagnosis. Hence, the results should be interpreted with caution."

Marie Skydiving, Åsa Forsman, Tania DukicWillstrand, LucieLaflamme, JetteMöller, “Medical impairment and road traffic crashes among older drivers in Sweden – A national, population-based, case-control study,” AccidentAnalysis and Prevention 163 (2021) 106434, published online,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2021.106434.

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(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

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A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

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This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

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