Driving allows older adults stay mobile and independent. However, as they age, the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5,560 older adults were killed and more than 214,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2012. This amounts to 15 older adults killed and 586 injured in crashes on average every day.
Fatal crash rates increase noticeably starting at ages 70-74 and are highest among drives age 85 and older. This is largely due to an increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications. Also, age-related declines in vision and cognitive function can affect an older adult’s driving abilities. You may notice that your elderly parents’ driving abilities are on the decline. It can be very difficult to approach this subject with your parents so they can give up the keys and stop driving.
If the situation is critical, you need to act immediately. Addressing your elder promptly could be a matter of life and death. If the situation is not critical, then take time to consider how the situation looks from your elder’s point of view and what driving means to him. Keep your expectations realistic. It may be good to have a preliminary discussion to get the issue out on the table so it can be dealt with openly. It can be awkward and painful to inform an older adult that he is not capable of doing something as basic and essential as driving a car. For an elder, this can be a humiliating reminder of his growing inability to take care of himself and manage the tasks of daily life.
It would be a good idea to give some thought to the emotional and practical issues he will face when he gives up driving. This will help you be more empathetic when discussing the issue with your elder. Plan the discussion for a quiet time of day, when you and your elder are both relaxed and rested and can take the time to discuss the issue thoroughly. Try to avoid coming on too strong. Remember that if you’ve noticed his driving has grown erratic and sloppy, then he is probably aware of it as well. If he becomes angry when you try to talk about driving or if he refuses to discuss it, it may be a good idea to temporarily drop the issue. Arguing might make your elder more resistant. Give the matter some time and bring it up again in a week or so. It may take some time for your elder to grow used to the idea of not driving.
You can be most helpful by helping him express himself and work through his own concerns. Encourage him to discuss his concerns without immediately jumping in with solutions. Such solutions may offer temporary comfort but won’t help you or him explore the larger issues involved. Listen well to convey your support and encouragement. When having this conversation about his driving, he may begin talking about the past. Resist the temptation to interrupt and get him back on track. Instead, encourage him to reminisce. These memories may help him come to term with this life transition and gradually accept the fact that he’ll soon have to give up the driving.
The discussion will be more productive and positive if you approach it with the genuine desire to learn more about his experiences, ideas, and concerns. You can discuss the pros and cons of giving up driving, which can help him realize there are actually benefits to not driving, such as savings on insurance, maintenance, and gasoline. It can also help him focus on the stark consequences, such as a fatal accident, that could result from continuing to drive.
Find out if medical problems are causing driving issues. Have a doctor check his eyes and reflexes. Ask about medication, side effects, and drug interactions. It’s possible that the problem can be remedied with a change in medication or a stronger pair of glasses. Make sure his car is suited to his needs and physical abilities and ask the doctor if assistive devices might help. The physician might suggest that he limit driving to daylight hours or essential errands.
It could also be a good idea to brush up on his driving skills and the traffic laws. You may want to revisit the situation every few months to reevaluate his driving skills. If he shouldn’t be driving anymore, you can confidentially ask the physician for a letter to take to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV can give your elder an eye exam, which may result in his license being taken away.
Arrange for alternative transportation so that your elder does not have to give up all his freedom and activities. You can help your elder become familiar with other transportation options, such as taking the bus with him. Help him find out more about local senior transportation services and encourage him to carpool with friends. Also, you can explain that if you sell the car, the money saved on insurance and maintenance can be used for transportation or medical needs. Offer to drive him to the activities he enjoys or find someone who can take him. Make sure he’s included in family outings and help him develop new routines and hobbies that don’t require driving, like gardening or walking.
Some of these tips can help you broach the subject of not driving with your elder, but kindness and respect will always go a long way.