The trail making test as a screening instrument for driving performance in older drivers; a translational research
Background: In many countries, primary care physicians determine whether or not older drivers are fit to drive. Little, however, is known regarding the effects of cognitive decline on driving performance and the means to detect it. This study explores to what extent the trail making test (TMT) can provide indications to clinicians about their older patients' on-road driving performance in the context of cognitive decline. Methods: This translational study was nested within a cohort study and an exploratory psychophysics study. The target population of interest was constituted of older drivers in the absence of important cognitive or physical disorders. We therefore recruited and tested 404 home-dwelling drivers, aged 70 years or more and in possession of valid drivers' licenses, who volunteered to participate in a driving refresher course. Forty-five drivers also agreed to undergo further testing at our lab. On-road driving performance was evaluated by instructors during a 45 minute validated open-road circuit. Drivers were classified as either being excellent, good, moderate, or poor depending on their score on a standardized evaluation of on-road driving performance. Results: The area under the receiver operator curve for detecting poorly performing drivers was 0.668 (CI95% 0.558 to 0.778) for the TMT-A, and 0.662 (CI95% 0.542 to 0.783) for the TMT-B. TMT was related to contrast sensitivity, motion direction, orientation discrimination, working memory, verbal fluency, and literacy. Older patients with a TMT-A = 54 seconds or a TMT-B = 150 seconds have a threefold (CI95% 1.3 to 7.0) increased risk of performing poorly during the on-road evaluation. TMT had a sensitivity of 63.6%, a specificity of 64.9%, a positive predictive value of 9.5%, and a negative predictive value of 96.9%. Conclusion: In screening settings, the TMT would have clinicians uselessly consider driving cessation in nine drivers out of ten. Given the important negative impact this could have on older drivers, this study confirms the TMT not to be specific enough for clinicians to justify driving cessation without complementary investigations on driving behaviors.