Driving in old age can be controversial. Those who show proficiency can stay mobile and independent. Old age, by itself, is not a reason to stop driving, but there are certainly challenges to driving, as we get older.
Recognizing signs that an aging loved one might no longer be able to drive safely is important. Answering these questions may help you decide if you need to initiate a conversation with an older driver about driving safely:
- Have you noticed dents or scratches on their vehicle?
- Has the driver received a ticket or driving violation?
- Have they been involved in a near-miss or crash?
- Are they getting lost or confused about where they are going?
- Do familiar routes seem unfamiliar?
- Have they been advised to stop driving due to a health reason?
- Are road signs overwhelming or confusing?
- Are they taking a medication that could affect driving safely?
- Are they driving well below the speed limit?
- Can they see at night?
If these signs are apparent, how do you start a conversation about giving up the car keys? Considering the potential consequences of a serious accident may help you overcome your hesitation to act. It can be difficult and awkward to broach the subject to be sure, but it is imperative if the outcome means someone life could be at stake.
Think about the conversation before you have it. Prepare ahead of time to how you will respond to their questions, anger, and emotions. Be specific with your concerns and have examples if necessary. Involve outsiders like their doctor, friend, family members, counselors, the DMV, etc. In many ways, it is important to be ahead of the game, to be prepared.
Consider Their Point of View
Consider how the situation looks from their point of view. Some people may have been driving for over 50 years and that feel that not driving is more than a loss of freedom. It may be part of their identity, affecting where they live, who they see, and what interests and activities they enjoy. To you, this decision might be a matter of good sense and safety. However, for them it might represent a loss of independence.
Have Realistic Expectations
Make sure your expectations are realistic. If you assume that one discussion will resolve the matter, you could be sorely disappointed. Given how emotionally charged the driving issue can be, you may need to think of this as a process that might take adjustment and time. Consider this a first step a way to get the issue on the table so it can be brought up another time.
Understand Your Role
It is not up to you to convince the person that they need to give up driving, even if you think it is true. It is important to respect their right to weigh in and make their own decision. They need your support.
Be mindful of when to have a conversation and do not come on too strong. You may feel a sense of urgency but be patient. If you jump right in with, “You have to stop driving now!” you might create stress and cause the person to tune out. Starting the conversation again might be difficult if you get off on the wrong foot.
Try not to assume they are not aware. Chances are if you have noticed that they are not driving safely they are probably aware of it too. You will be more successful if you ask questions like “How do you think you’re driving is going?” Listen and try to work through their concerns.
They may respond by pointing out practical reasons they cannot stop driving with responses like “How will I get to the market? What about getting to my exercise class? Try to handle objections by listening. They may know that they are having trouble driving safely but cannot imagine how to manage life without driving a car.
Acknowledge concerns but try not to jump in with solutions. Try rephrasing what the person has said. For example, you sound concerned that giving up driving would mean you have to give up some of your usual activities. Have you thought about how you could still get to your activities another way? Jot down pros and cons, which might encourage exploring alternatives, an important process in working through the issue.
There are five area agencies on aging located throughout Vermont to respond to the needs of older Vermonters and their caregivers. They work together to provide a consistent package of services statewide including options for caregiver support, health insurance counseling, transportation options, volunteer services, senior nutrition programs, options counseling, adult day programs, home health services, housing alternatives, exercise, wellness programs and more. For information call 800-642-5119 or visit Vermont4a.org.
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging provides many resources including transportation options for older adults at N4a.org.
Tracy Shamberger is the Director of Public Relations and Business Development for Age Well. You can visit their website at Agewellvt.org.