Epilepsy: Safe Driving?


NEW HAVEN, Conn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – About three million American adults have epilepsy. Every state has different requirements when it comes to driving with the condition, the most common is that patients be seizure-free for a specific period of time and submit a doctor’s evaluation. Now, researchers at Yale University are using the power of artificial intelligence to help more accurately assess a patient’s safety behind the wheel.

There’s a huge sense of freedom when you’re behind the wheel, but it’s also a skill that requires you to avoid distractions. This can be difficult for people with epilepsy.

Medication or deep brain stimulation may control the severity of seizures, but sometimes it’s hard to detect brief periods of abnormal brain activity.

“We have a real challenge when people don’t think they’re having these episodes anymore,” says Yale School of Medicine neuroscientist, Dr. Hal Blumenfeld, MD, PhD.

Those episodes are called spike wave discharges. Dr. Blumenfeld and colleagues gathered information from a large group of patients who were tested with EEG during a spike wave discharge to see if they could respond normally. Then they fed that information into a computer.

(Read Full Interview)

“Basically, we have to teach it to tell the difference between brainwave activity that’s safe and brainwave activity that’s not safe for driving and for responding,” Dr. Blumenfeld explains.

Right now, doctors use behavioral testing to determine if a patient can drive. Using AI, researchers say 65 percent of the patients who were cleared by behavioral testing would not be able to drive under the AI test – showing that EEG testing may be a more accurate way to predict driver safety.

Dr. Blumenfeld  says more studies – with information from an even larger number of patients – would fine tune the artificial intelligence, making it even more accurate. He says EEG testing can be done in a doctor’s office, which would make it easily accessible for patients.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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Hal Blumenfeld, MD, PhD, Neuroscientist, Yale School of Medicine




REPORT:       MB #5181

BACKGROUND: Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness. Anyone can develop epilepsy. Epilepsy affects both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. According to the latest estimates, about 0.6% of children aged 0-17 years have active epilepsy. Think of a school with 1,000 students—this means about 6 of them could have epilepsy.

(Sources: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/epilepsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20350093


DIAGNOSING: Because epilepsy is caused by abnormal activity in the brain, seizures can affect any process your brain coordinates. Seizure signs and symptoms may include: temporary confusion, a staring spell, stiff muscles, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms or legs, loss of consciousness or awareness, and/or psychological symptoms of fear, anxiety, or déjà vu. To diagnose your condition, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may order several tests to diagnose epilepsy and determine the cause of seizures. Your evaluation may include: a neurological exam, blood tests, an EEG, a high-density EEG, a CT scan, MRI, or PET scan.

(Sources: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/epilepsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20350093


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Many people with epilepsy have more severe and obvious seizures that would clearly preclude driving. Others, though, may experience milder symptoms with time or medication, and therefore hope that they can one day safely drive. However, brainwave EEG tests may still indicate brief episodes of abnormal brain activity such as “spike wave discharges” (SWDs). While they are not always problematic, SWDs can impair consciousness, but to what degree? A new study published in September 2022 in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology may guide doctors in how to proceed when they observe SWDs on EEG, but are unclear of the patient’s neurological capacity for driving. Led by Principal Investigator Hal Blumenfeld, MD, PhD, researchers have harnessed the power of machine learning/artificial intelligence (AI) to address the shortcomings of traditional testing. “Specialized behavioral testing can determine whether or not patients can respond normally during SWDs,” said Dr. Blumenfeld. “However, this kind of split-second behavioral testing during SWDs can usually only be done in a research setting. Meanwhile, regular brainwave EEG measurements without behavioral testing is very widely available.”

(Source: https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/research-applies-machine-learningai-to-predict-consciousness-for-driving-in-people-with-epilepsy/)


Colleen Moriarty

(203) 376-4237


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Hal Blumenfeld, MD, PhD, Neuroscientist

Read the entire Q&A