One of the most difficult situations to handle with a senior loved one is whether or not he or she should still be behind the wheel. The prospect of losing that type of independence can be especially devastating for a senior and is tied into many emotions; feeling young and productive, independent, self-sufficient, and in control of one’s life. The person faced with taking away the keys needs information and support in making that decision.
Signs it may be time to take away the keys
There are many signs and symptoms that it may be time for a senior to stop driving. A senior may recognize these signs themselves, or family members may see them when riding with a senior driver.
- Familiar places become difficult to locate.
- You feel unsafe on the road.
- The driver has had several near misses or actual crashes.
- The driver tries to reason away small mishaps on the road and/or moving violations.
- You frequently hear excuses like, “I didn’t see the driver”, “They came out of nowhere”, “That cop was just waiting for me”, “The sun was in my eyes”.
- The driver drifts into other lanes.
- Other drivers honk at the senior driver frequently.
- The driver feels anxious or confused by other drivers, cars in close proximity, busy streets, complicated intersections etc..
- The senior is taking medications with potential side effects of sleepiness or dizziness.
- The senior’s health care provider has encouraged him or her to restrict or stop driving.
How to make the decision
These signs and symptoms may get worse over time, increasing in number and type. If, as a caregiver or the adult child of a senior, you notice that traffic tickets are piling up, it’s time to investigate what they are for and when they were written. You can call the officer listed on the ticket and ask about what they observed, where and why the ticket was written. It won’t make the situation any worse for your loved one and it may help to illuminate the situation. The fact gathering will help your decision making.
Discuss the situation with your loved one’s physician. This is important for two reasons.
- The physician needs to know that you are concerned and the details of the situation.
- The physician may be able to help you make an informed decision.
- The physician may be willing to have the conversation with the senior and tell him or her that driving is no longer safe.
Physical and mental factors play a role
Take into consideration the physical and mental health of the senior and how it may impact safe driving. They can include:
- Vision: Eye diseases and conditions ranging from macular degeneration to cataracts can impair vision and make it dangerous to drive. If the senior has diabetes, diabetic retinopathy may reduce vision. Aging can make it more difficult to see and drive at night. Make sure the senior has regular, thorough eye exams so that you know the level of visual acuity and whether or not it is safe for him or her to drive at any time of day.
- Physical dexterity: When we are young we take for granted the physical strength and flexibility it takes to drive, step on the brake, and turn our heads and shoulders to check blind spots. Driving requires strength in the arms, legs and torso. If the senior is weak or has physical limitations, it may impact his or her ability to drive safely.
- Mental acuity: Driving is an exercise in decision making from the moment the ignition is turned on. On the road, split second decisions must be made and often in rapid succession. Cognitive impairments can interfere with this ability and place the senior driver and his or her passengers at risk.
How to hold the conversation
Telling a senior he or she can no longer drive can be an excruciating conversation. Here are some suggestions on how to approach it.
- Start early: Begin the conversation when you first notice the signs of small accidents and traffic violations. Talk about what will happen when the senior can no longer drive, how he or she will get around, who will help. Discuss what transportation could take the place of driving. This won’t necessarily be an easy conversation but it will set the stage for decision that may need to be taken later on.
- Engage the senior in making the decision: Tell the senior about your concerns. Ask the senior if he or she would be willing to take a driver’s exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The test results will make the decision.
- Seek support: Ask the senior’s doctor if they are willing to intervene. If not, ask if you might hold the conversation at the next doctor’s appointment. The point is not to make the senior feel sabotaged, rather to obtain a clinical basis for the decision.
Once the decision has been made that the senior can no longer drive, it’s time to seek out local transportation support. Call the local Area on Aging to ask about transportation services. Private in-home care agencies offer transportation services that will take seniors shopping, to appointments and to visit friends and family. If your loved one is a member of a civic or religious organization, inquire if they have volunteers who drive seniors. In many cities and towns there are dedicated transportation resources that can help.
There is no doubt that this is one of the most dreaded conversations faced by adult children. Nothing can make it easier. The only thing that can help is having as much as information as possible in order to make the proper decision. Then, finding local resources can help to make sure the senior remains as independent as absolutely possible.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.