Driver's Safety: How To Have That Difficult Conversation
As we age, driving can become challenging because of changes in physical and/or mental abilities. In a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the rate of accidents per mile steadily increase for drivers over 65 due to reflexes and diminished mental process recession.
However, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington D.C. found in an earlier study that “when it came to families discussing driving behaviors with older members, 83 percent reported they had never had a conversation."
Identify The Changes First
It's important to acknowledge the significance of these conversations and decisions in the lives of older adults.
Talking about driving does not have to be difficult if you come to the discussion prepared and with a desire to help your parent make the right decision. Although these are big changes, they can be positive ones.
Your parent may have already made some changes as they’ve become aware that their driving skills are not once what they were.
- Do they not take the highway?
- Only travel to nearby and familiar places?
- Have they stopped driving at night or in inclement weather?
They have most likely come to accept these limitations and live within them, even if the adjustment can initially be difficult.
Initiating the Conversation
Have a conversation that is honest, open, and respectful. The car represents more than “driving” it represents independence as the ability to get up and go provides a sense of freedom for your parent. Giving up a sense of freedom is never easy.
- How would your parent best respond?
- Would they be more receptive to hear these concerns from another sibling, a peer, or professional rather than one of the “kids”?
- Refrain from becoming frustrated with initial negative reactions. This is a big step and although necessary, can be unsettling for a lot of seniors.
- During each conversation, share your genuine safety concerns and desire to protect your parent’s best interests while validating their feelings. Seek to understand why they feel the way they do. To stop driving is a loss, be honest about that:
- Ask your parent about how they feel about no longer driving.
- Once you’ve gained understanding, you can offer solution that match their transportation needs and concerns.
Explore Transportation Options
Identifying alternatives to having a car will be an important part of the conversation. In our car-centered culture, many people are unaware of the extent of transportation services available in their community.
- If you are unfamiliar with senior services in your community, including transportation options, local offices of your State’s Department on Aging is a good place to start.
- If you are in Milwaukee County, contact the Department on Aging or Interfaith Older Adult Programs.
- Waukesha residents should contact the Aging & Disability Resource Center or Interfaith Senior Programs and may be referred to partner agencies within The Caregiver Connection.
If your loved one is a risk to others and does not respond to constructive conversation, action is necessary.
- If an individual is showing early signs of dementia, they may get lost in very familiar places and lack the ability to respond to normal road conditions.
- While it may be tough to take a car away from a loved one, their safety and the safety of others must come first.
In wanting to discuss a parent’s ability to drive, you are acting out of love and concern. Your parents are undergoing a transition in life that can be emotionally challenging and frightening. Just know that it is possible to have a loving and honoring conversation about these transitions.
- One of the many benefits of living in a senior community setting is that transportation to local stores, restaurants, and other outings is often provided.
- Full calendars of a wide range of activities and social opportunities on site can help diminish the desire to own and maintain a vehicle over time.
- The free shuttles come in extra hand during the winter months. You have peace of mind knowing your loved one is not putting themselves in harms way.
For more tips on how to have Difficult Conversations with aging loved ones, explore Adele Lund's thoughtful articles on all subject matters. Adele Lund has the patience, understanding, and kindness it takes to help families start that conversation. Read more here.
Updated AAA stats and quotes found from Argentum Daily: News for Senior Living Professionals