Vehicle control can be affected in drivers with diabetes-related nerve damage
Lead academic Dilwyn Marple-Horvat, Professor of Motor Neuroscience at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “Importantly, we found that people got better from one test drive to the next, which suggests people with diabetes-related neuropathy improve when driving the same route repeatedly, as in your daily commute.
“Perhaps they could improve more if given feedback and instruction, and we have some ideas for technological solutions and training programmes to do this.
“We found those with diabetic neuropathy had less subtle control of the accelerator, using its mid-range much less than other drivers — they tended to either only lightly touch the pedal, or really put their foot down, resulting in strong acceleration so that after just a few seconds the car would be moving much more quickly.
“We found this sometimes led to a driver needing to make quicker and bigger movements of the steering wheel to stay in lane, which is not ideal.”
Professor Marple-Horvat added that on average people with diabetes-related neuropathy drove more slowly than the other groups tested, which would reduce the dangers of driving generally.
He suggested there may be scope for doctors and nurses to issue specific neuropathy motoring advice during consultations as they do for eyesight and blood sugar monitoring.
In addition, researchers noted that the onset of diabetes-related neuropathy can be very gradual.
An estimated 9% of the UK adult population have diabetes and it is estimated that around half of these will experience symptoms of diabetes-related peripheral neuropathy, that could add up to a potential 1.5 million motorists.
People may not realise anything is wrong until they experience a loss of pain sensation in their foot or develop an ulcer, two of the common triggers for a diagnosis.
The slow-onset of the condition means the development of associated driving difficulties may be just as gradual, and may go unnoticed by a driver, who could be using their vehicle unaware of the changes and possible dangers.
The Manchester Metropolitan team hopes the study’s findings will bring greater attention to the implications for driving of diabetic peripheral nerve damage and how to manage or reverse these changes in driving.
Many of the study participants were recruited through Research for the Future, a National Institute for Health Research initiative, which helps find volunteers for research across Greater Manchester, hosted by Salford Royal Hospital, part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group.
Katherine Grady, Service Manager at Research for the Future said: “Lots of people living with diabetes were eager to participate in this study, which suggests this previously unexplored area of research is important to them.
“Symptoms of diabetes-related neuropathy typically develop over many months or years and can go unnoticed. This study highlights the importance of people with diabetes attending their annual foot check to detect potential problems early and receive appropriate advice from their healthcare team.”
Read the report in Diabetic Medicine
Read the DRWF leaflet How can diabetes affect my feet? here
Find out more about driving with diabetes regulations on the DVLA website
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