For most of us, there will be a time when we need to stop driving.
How do you recognize when that time is?
How do you talk about it with your loved one?
Most of us remember getting our driver’s license and the feeling of independence that came with it. We cannot imagine the day we will need to give up the keys. That's why giving up driving can be so difficult - we associate it with independence, self-reliance, and responsibility. We may have spent so much of our lives relying on being able to drive somewhere that we cannot picture a life without it.
Some Warning Signs That It May Be Time To Stop Driving
Decreased vision, hearing loss, cognitive changes, slower reflexes, stiffness, and pain affect a person’s ability to see, hear and respond to other drivers and pedestrians, especially when there are sudden changes. Certain health conditions and medications can also affect driving skills.
Most changes in driving skills occur slowly and often are not noticed initially. However, once you do recognize that someone’s driving habits have changed, it's probably time to have a conversation. Below are a few signs that someone may be having difficulty operating a vehicle.
Getting lost on routes that should be familiar
New dents or scratches to the vehicle, garage, fence, or mailbox
Driving violations and tickets
Experiencing a close call or accident
Becoming overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving
A delayed response to unexpected situations
Speeding or going too slowly for no reason
Difficulty moving into or staying in the correct lane of traffic
Hitting curbs when making right turns, backing up, or parking
Remember that giving up driving is often not just about driving - it symbolizes so much more and can be an emotional topic. There is no single approach when talking with an older adult about driving. You know your loved one best and what will likely resonate with them, so keep that in mind when preparing and follow these 4 guidelines:
Be Prepared - understand the problem and be ready to offer solutions.
Plan Ahead - create the right atmosphere for the discussion. Limit distractions and ensure the time is convenient for them and does not interfere with their schedule so that you have their full attention.
Solicit Input - this should be a conversation with your loved one where you explore the problem and options together. Unless your loved one has cognition problems, they are probably still making their own decisions, so respect this and work with them.
Be Empathetic and patient - think about what it would be like if someone asked you to stop driving. Try to speak slowly, remain calm, and know that it may take more than one conversation.
Remember that this is a conversation, so propose alternatives and listen to what they have to say.
Ask that they discuss driving with their physician, especially if they have health conditions or are taking medication.
Conduct an assessment of the vehicle. Can visibility be improved by adjusting the mirrors or seats? Is the seat positioned correctly to reach the pedals and is the steering wheel comfortable?
Propose a senior driving course. Even experienced drivers can benefit from learning new techniques for driving in today’s challenging environment. Instructors can also recommend accommodations for age-related changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time. Let them know they may be eligible for an auto insurance discount upon completing a driving course. Auto insurance companies, AARP, and AAA offer such courses.
Suggest a driving test to evaluate their ability to operate a car safely. Driver’s tests are available at local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices. Offer to take one as well to show that this is not only for older drivers.
Suggest alternative transportation methods or create a transportation schedule using family and friends as drivers. Consider hiring a driver or using public transit, taxis, or rideshare. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about senior transportation programs.
Offer alternatives to limit driving, such as online ordering of groceries and medications, meal delivery, and professionals who provide services in the home instead of the office. Some of these services are accessible by phone.
This may be one of the first of several difficult conversations with your loved one, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact Mellie to learn more about how we can support you with this conversation, as well help you prepare and plan for all of your elder care needs.