Worried your loved one is no longer safe behind the wheel? The last thing you should do is threaten to “take away the keys.”
For many older adults, losing the ability to drive is a life-changing event. Now, if they want to go to church, the grocery store, or to see a friend, they have to rely on other people or other methods of transportation. Nearly 80% of family caregivers provide transportation for loved ones.
This loss of independence can be traumatic, and can even cause depression. Conversations about taking away the keys are bound to cause your parent to become defensive.
Instead of taking away the keys, introduce the idea of “driving retirement.” We all know that one day we’ll retire from work, and whether due to physical or cognitive changes, we’ll all one day retire from driving, too. It might happen all at once, or it might happen in stages; regardless, it’s best if it’s planned for, rather than forced.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at the signs it’s time to talk about driving retirement, tips for discussing driving with an older adult, and what to do if your loved one still won’t stop driving.
Signs Your Loved One Isn’t Safe Behind the Wheel
Because it is very difficult to maintain one’s own care at home without transportation, denial can be a very common reaction to the early warning signs that it’s time for driving retirement. On the other side of denial is danger: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 20% of all traffic deaths each year are people 65 and older.
As a family caregiver, it’s important for you to keep a close eye on your aging loved ones’ driving abilities and habits. Here are 20 signs the NHTSA recommends you look for that indicate your loved one may not be safe behind the wheel anymore:
- Drifting into other lanes
- Straddling lanes
- Making sudden lane changes
- Ignoring or missing stop signs and traffic signals
- Increased confusion while driving in traffic
- Braking or stopping abruptly without cause
- Accelerating suddenly without reason
- Coasting to a near stop amid moving traffic
- Pressing simultaneously on the brake and accelerator pedals while driving
- Difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, and other vehicles
- Increasing levels of anxiety while driving
- Driving significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
- Backing up after missing an exit or turn
- Difficulty reacting quickly and/or processing multiple stimuli
- Problems with back/neck flexibility and turning to see traffic/hazards around the car
- Getting lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
- Failing to use turn signals or keeping signals on without changing lanes
- Increased “close calls” and “near misses”
- Receipt of two or more traffic citations or warnings in the past two years
- Dents and scrapes on their car or on surrounding objects where they drive and park at home, such as fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs
How to Discuss Unsafe Driving With a Senior
Don’t wait for an accident to occur! If you begin observing any of the above warning signs, it is time to address the situation.
It’s best if you can start talking about driving retirement early. Here are some conversation starters you might consider using:
- “What if one day you don’t feel as confident behind the wheel anymore? Have you thought about what driving retirement looks like for you?”
- “What if I noticed that your driving is changing? What would be the best way to approach you?”
- “What changes have you noticed with your driving lately?”
- “Have you noticed any physical changes from your medications lately?”
- “Have you visited the eye doctor recently? What did they say about your vision?”
- “Everyone drives so fast these days. There was another accident just the other day. Have you had any concerns about driving recently?”
If you’ve already witnessed unsafe driving, share with them your concerns. Bring up times you were nervous, such as difficulty at a stop sign, with an intersection, or merging lanes. If you’ve noticed that their driving abilities have changed, they’re probably aware of it, too.
Avoid getting confrontational. Being supportive and understanding will help make the discussion easier. Emphasize that you are bringing this up out of love and concern for their well-being and that of the surrounding community.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to plan for driving retirement all at once. For example, you might consider asking your loved one if they’d agree not to drive in bad weather or at night or to only drive short distances. That way not driving won’t feel quite as dramatic when the time comes.
Throughout all your conversations — there usually is more than one — let them know how you’ll support them in either improving their driving, such as a senior driver improvement course through your local DMV, or keeping them mobile. Some alternatives to driving might include rides from family and friends, public transportation, ridesharing programs, and paratransit services.
What to Do If Your Loved One Won’t Stop Driving
If your loved one is reluctant, or even refuses to stop driving - call in support. Sometimes it’s easier for a parent to talk to a professional rather than their son or daughter, and they might be more willing to listen to the advice of a doctor. When driving retirement is presented as a medical issue, your loved one might be likely to take it personally and more likely to accept it as something beyond their control.
Another option is to schedule a driving assessment, which might confirm to a senior that they shouldn't be driving or need to modify their driving habits.
Benefits of Assisted Living Transportation Services
If your aging loved one is ready to enter driving retirement, it’s a great time to consider moving to an assisted living community that provides rides for residents. These communities understand that transportation enables residents to live more independently and ensures that older adults will be able to continue enjoying the activities they’re accustomed to.
For many seniors, making the move to an assisted living community is not only a new beginning with easy access to friends, delicious meals, and purposeful activities but if the community offers transportation services, it can also be an escape from the fears and worries that can accompany living at home alone.
Instead of being stuck at home because your loved one doesn’t like driving or can’t find a ride to an appointment, the community's transportation services allow older adults to be in control of how they choose to use their time.
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