Driving is a privilege that many of us take for granted. When a person loses their ability to drive, it is often devastating. It’s a loss of autonomy and freedom, and a tangible recognition that the individual’s faculties are declining. However, it is inevitable that as we age our ability to drive safely diminishes. At some point, we all must face the fact that driving is no longer an option. So, how do we approach this subject with our aging loved ones? How do we know when it’s no longer appropriate for them to drive? This is a very touchy subject for many seniors. Here are some tips that can help you handle the situation.
Signs that it is time to surrender the keys :
Some older people recognize that they can no longer drive adequately. Their discomfort will push them to willingly hand over the keys. But in most cases, people fight to retain their driving privileges. The best way to determine if your loved one needs to stop driving is to get in the car and take a ride with them. Here are some clear signs that a person may not be able to continue driving safely.
- Bumping curbs, especially when turning
- Forgetting the destination
- Multiple minor accidents or “fender benders”
- Passing/missing exits or turns
- Lack of signaling for lane changes and turns
- Rolling through stop signs, instead of stopping
- Difficulty seeing traffic lights/distinguishing the colors
- Forgetting the route to a commonly-known destination
- Generally not paying attention to surroundings
- Difficulty steering or pushing brake/gas pedals
- Vision issues including cataracts and macular degeneration
How to discuss the subject with your loved one:
Start Early and Talk Often
Begin discussing the issue long before the individual actually needs to give up their driving privilege. This gives them plenty of time to digest the information and expect the transition. Have frequent conversations about the matter. Speak candidly, creating an open and honest exchange.
It’s very important that you approach the situation with empathy. Begin by softly encouraging the individual to stop driving. Explain the dangers, without pointing out the person’s driving mistakes. For example, you don’t want to say something like, “You need to stop driving. You missed two turns yesterday and almost hit the neighbor’s dog this morning.”’ Instead, try using gentler language and asking questions that provoke discussion. For instance, an alternative statement would look something like, “I’m worried that you are going to get hurt. Do you still feel comfortable behind the wheel?”
Don’t Force it
Allow your loved one to come to their own conclusions about driving. Don’t force them to stop unless it is necessary. There may be a time when you have to take the car and keys. However, it is much more productive to let the individual come to that decision on their own. Encourage them to evaluate their feelings about driving. Point out the unsafe environmental factors. Bring attention to the horrible traffic conditions and crazy drivers on the road. When you put the fault on the environment, rather than the driving abilities of your loved one, you remove some of the resistance.
Examine the Alternatives
There are numerous transportation options. It’s helpful to evaluate all the choices with the aged individual. There are ride services like Uber, Lyft, even taxis. Many communities also provide some sort of transportation specifically designed for senior citizens. Additionally, you might want to consider relocating your loved one, in order to be closer to family members or within walking distance of important locations. Reassure the individual that he or she will not be stuck by showing them all the promising substitutes for driving.
A number of states have laws in place that attempt to stop hazardous older drivers. However, these laws often are not comprehensive enough and most older people must voluntarily stop driving. It is an emotionally charged subject and requires gentle negotiation. When handled with patience and understanding, families can resolve this issue w