Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

The longest day

Written by Noah Riley, BS Clinical & Behavioral Neuroscience senior at Drury University and participant in the Institute in Public Health Summer Research Program

Participating in the Summer Research Program – Aging & Neurological Diseases Track has led me to assist in the DRIVES lab at WashU. The DRIVES lab is headed by Ganesh Babulal, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, and focuses on understanding the relationship between preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and driving behavior. According to the Drives Project, preclinical AD is the stage in which changes in the brain occur years before symptoms affect memory, thinking or behavior can be detected by affected individuals or their physicians.

As most individuals affected by AD begin treatment after the onset of symptoms, it is extremely important to identify new ways to effectively recognize AD development in the preclinical stage to begin preventative measures as early as possible. DRIVES participants receive a chip installed in their vehicle that sends the DRIVES lab data on participants’ driving habits. This data includes the time of the drive, range of the drive, hard-braking, defensive maneuvers, and route patterns. In addition to the installation of the chip into their vehicle, participants also undergo an annual driving assessment during their office visit to our lab.

The purpose of the driving assessment is to evaluate cognitive function as participants drive, specifically directional ability, decision making, and reaction time. All of these components are subject to decreased ability due to the development of preclinical and clinical AD.

My time so far in the DRIVES lab has tremendously increased my knowledge of AD and preclinical AD, as well as my desire to further research in this field. I have learned how to score and interpret neuropsychological assessments, the process of identifying blood-based biomarkers of AD, and how AD develops in the brain and the deficiencies that result in cognitive ability. Every week all the students in the DRIVES lab participate in a journal club with Babulal where we read and discuss an article in the neuroscience field. This activity alone has been a great opportunity to ask questions about current and ground-breaking studies in neuroscience and to broaden my understanding of not just AD and AD related dementias, but in the reduction of development of these conditions.

Noah Riley, back left; with clinical research coordinators, Alexis Walker, back right; Samantha Murphy, front left; and Hailee Domash, front right; all wearing purple to advocate for Alzheimer’s disease awareness (#TheLongestDay) on June 21st

I have even had the opportunity to help write a manuscript on the relationship between cognitive reserve and driving behavior with my senior clinical research coordinator and lab manager Samantha Murphy, MA. I truly can’t thank the Summer Research Program, Washington University, Professor Babulal, Samantha, and everyone in the DRIVES lab enough for giving me this incredible opportunity to learn and grow as a student and future researcher!