Driving means independence, and it is hard to know when it is time to put down the keys for good. If you are concerned about a family member or loved one on the road, then it is time for tough conversations. It also means your family will need to plan new ways to transport your family member to and from doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, and entertainment outings.
Many seniors can drive themselves into their 80s and even 90s, but if hearing, vision and reaction times begin to diminish, then it is time to consider alternative means of transportation. There are several warning signs that it may be time to stop driving.
- Frequently getting lost in familiar places.
- Extreme difficulty concentrating while driving.
- Consistently misjudging the distance between cars, off-ramps and other road obstacles.
- Inability to easily check mirrors rearview mirrors while driving or in reverse.
- Having too many “close calls” while driving on a regular basis.
- If you older relative lacks the ability to view road signs.
- Responding slowly to emergency situations that require quick breaking.
- Confusing the breaks and the gas pedals.
- They experience the loss of leg strength and mobility.
- Medications impede focus and response times.
For many, taking away car keys is the same as taking away freedom. Remind your loved one that their freedom isn’t the driving. It is the ability to go out and do the activities they love doing. Community senior transportation services, cabs and buses can take them to their freedom more efficiently and safer than driving their vehicle.
How to discuss the difficult topic through mini conversations
Giving up driving is an emotional process. It means sacrificing flexibility and independence for safety. Some individuals may be more agreeable through the process if they have easy access to other means of transportation. Others may struggle because driving is a part of their identity.
Negative feelings are normal during these difficult conversations. Your parent or grandparent may feel frustrated because they fear isolation or they are worried about becoming a burden to others. You may feel awkward telling the one who taught you how to drive that it may be time for them to stop driving. Either way, both parties dread this moment.
Here is a great way to approach the uncomfortable conversations: instead of having one big conversation, break it up into several small talks addressing different areas of concern.
Start with research. Find every other mode of transportation available to your older relative. Look for elder care services, bus routes, cab services or ride sharing. Make sure they understand all the options available and make it clear they will still have freedom without a car.This starter conversation may be a casual one. Simply, highlight the senior living apartment complex offers a shuttle to the grocery store.
Take action: You can begin by encouraging your parent or grandparent to limit driving by taking public transportation more often.
Talk about the benefits of not driving. Tell them how much they would save each year by not paying for car insurance or filling up a gas tank.
Take action: Fill out a cost comparison sheet to show them how much their car is costing them, and how much they would save by using other transportation services. Create a family plan (who is available to drive them and when), and they know you are serious about helping them when they need additional transportation.
Take the opportunity. Did you parent or grandparent recently get lost on the road or run a stop sign. Use this moment to bring up your concerns about them driving. This should be a more serious approach rather than casual.
Take action: Ask them to get a doctor’s opinion of them driving based on the medication they are taking each day.
Talk about safety concerns. Get your loved one to open up about some of the anxiety they may feel on the road. Ask them about the number of “close calls” they experience on a regular basis. Ask them if how they would evaluate their driving habits.
Take action: Implement new habits, like staying off the high-speed freeways or not driving at night.
Finally, consider taking a comprehensive driving exam to determine whether or not your loved one is safe behind the wheel.
Make sure you choose the best messenger to initiate these difficult discussions and avoid ganging up on your loved one. Give them space to consider your recommendation to stop driving. Help them transition to this new reality.
AARP provides a seminar on how to navigate this new season with your aging parent or grandparent.
Other ways to increase safety on the road (for any age)
If your older relative needs to start with some new habits. The following actions will increase their driving safety for them and others.
- Left turns are risky. Instead, turn right three times.
- Don’t get distracted. Put away the cellphone, and don’t play with the radio.
- Stay off congested high-speed freeways.
- Increase the distance between cars to maximize response time.
- Avoid driving at night.
- Don’t drive if it is raining, storming or snowing.
Take action today. Don’t delay these difficult discussions because the problem will not go away. Start offering solutions, and begin gently letting your older relative know you have concerns about them driving.
Does your loved one need more help with everyday activities and chores? Call us at 405.360.2400 to learn about how McCortney Family Hospice can help your senior increase their quality of life.