Cognition and driving ability in isolated and symptomatic REM sleep behavior disorder

David J. Sandness, Stuart J. McCarter, Lucas G. Dueffert, Paul W. Shepard, Ashley M. Enke, Julie Fields, Michelle M. Mielke, Bradley F. Boeve, Michael H. Silber, Erik K. St. Louis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Objectives: To analyze cognitive deficits leading to unsafe driving in patients with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), strongly associated with cognitive impairment and synucleinopathy-related neurodegeneration. Methods: Twenty isolated RBD (iRBD), 10 symptomatic RBD (sRBD), and 20 age- and education-matched controls participated in a prospective case-control driving simulation study. Group mean differences were compared with correlations between cognitive and driving safety measures. Results: iRBD and sRBD patients were more cognitively impaired than controls in global neurocognitive functioning, processing speeds, visuospatial attention, and distractibility (p <. 05). sRBD patients drove slower with more collisions than iRBD patients and controls (p <. 05), required more warnings, and had greater difficulty following and matching speed of a lead car during simulated car-following tasks (p <. 05). Driving safety measures were similar between iRBD patients and controls. Slower psychomotor speed correlated with more off-road accidents (r = 0.65) while processing speed (-0.88), executive function (-0.90), and visuospatial impairment (0.74) correlated with safety warnings in sRBD patients. Slower stimulus recognition was associated with more signal-light (0.64) and stop-sign (0.56) infractions in iRBD patients. Conclusions: iRBD and sRBD patients have greater selective cognitive impairments than controls, particularly visuospatial abilities and processing speed. sRBD patients exhibited unsafe driving behaviors, associated with processing speed, visuospatial awareness, and attentional impairments. Our results suggest that iRBD patients have similar driving-simulator performance as healthy controls but that driving capabilities regress as RBD progresses to symptomatic RBD with overt signs of cognitive, autonomic, and motor impairment. Longitudinal studies with serial driving simulator evaluations and objective on-road driving performance are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberzsab253
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD)
  • cognitive impairment
  • driving capability
  • synucleinopathy-related neurodegeneration
  • visuospatial impairment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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