When the topic of driving safety comes up around our elderly loved ones, it can quickly escalate into a difficult conversation. However, it is a very important conversation that contributes to the health and safety of your loved one and the motorists that they share the road with.
Many seniors are adamant about maintaining their autonomy and living (and driving) independently for as long as possible. These are valid feelings and one we can all understand. That’s why these conversations should be prefaced with empathy and tact.
Even with the cleanest driving record, all seniors will eventually begin to experience deterioration in vision, hearing, motor skills, and reaction times. These deficiencies could put themselves (and others) in danger due to improper judgement of distances, not hearing the horn of another motorist, not seeing the bicyclist in the bike lane, or any other number of potential road hazards.
Accidents happen to even the most savvy drivers and the difference between a minor fender bender and a serious accident can often be attributed to slightly better/worse reaction time and judgement.
Start The Conversation Slowly
You can have this difficult conversation with your elderly loved one without damaging your relationship or their self esteem. It just has to be done the right way. Let them know that your concerns are about their safety first and not an attack on their individualism or a callous negation of their desire for independence.
A few gentle questions to start the conversation might be:
- How do you feel at the wheel lately?
- Have you had any close calls or incidents that surprised/scared you lately?
- Have you noticed any changes in your reaction times or attention span?
- Have you noticed that it is more difficult to see or hear while driving?
- Are you maintaining your car and having it checked regularly by a mechanic for safety?
- Are you confident that you will know when it’s time to turn in the keys before something catastrophic happens?
When these questions and this conversation is presented in a respectful, empathetic way, our senior loved ones will be less likely to go on the defense or feel threatened.
Beyond starting the conversation to get your senior loved one thinking about driving safety and their current abilities, we can also be vigilant by:
- Checking their driving personally. Join them for a drive next time you’re visiting.
- Talk to their doctors and note any medications that may impair driving.
- Check tire pressure, fluids, brakes, and overall condition of the car regularly. Talk with the mechanic to verify maintenance appointments are being kept.
- Talk with friends and neighbors and open the conversation to talk about your loved ones’ driving. They might disclose warning signs that they’ve witnessed.
If you’re prudent about making driving safety a priority for your aging loved one, disaster can be averted.
The thought of having this difficult conversation can be daunting, but it’s necessary, nonetheless.
In a best-case scenario, your loved one will know when it’s time, give up their license and keys pleasantly, and squander away the money saved on insurance and gas on their favorite hobby.
Worst-case scenario? Let’s not go there. If you’re committed to honoring their feelings and desires, we’re confident that this conversation will go swimmingly.
Need More Resources?
There are a whole host of resources online that provide excellent information about senior driving, how to identify safety parameters, and help for navigating this new territory.
- AAA’s Senior Driving Site. There’s a handy “Resources for Family and Friends” section that can be very helpful for you. The site is also loaded with great information like each state’s licensing laws and how they affect seniors. One tool on this site that may help open the eyes (and mind) of your loved one is the “Evaluate Your Driving Ability” quiz.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Older Drivers. This site is particularly helpful with providing up-to-date statistics for older drivers that can help drive your point home when it comes to sharing with your aging loved one. One statistic shows that after age 70, the increase for injury risk shoots up. This is not necessarily a reflection of the ability of seniors to drive, but more related to frail bones and greater risk for more serious injuries, even in more minor fender benders.
- AARP, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to addressing the needs and interests of persons 50 and older. Through information and education, advocacy and service, AARP seeks to enhance the quality of life for all by promoting independence, dignity and purpose.
- Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Driving. This booklet outlines how Alzheimer’s and Dementia affect a person’s ability to drive. It contains a “contract” template that can help you get your loved one on board with a safety plan.
- Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully. This eBook is a great in-depth reference to share with your loved one that will help them either take extra steps to ensure they can drive safely, or evaluate if it’s time to hand over the keys.
Armed with the right information and resources, you can make this conversation effective and even pleasant for you and your loved one. When the time comes, you can encourage your loved one to gracefully hand over their keys with their head held high. They can step confidently into the next phase of life and experience the luxury of being carted around by someone else for a change.
If you’re exploring options that keep your senior loved one safe while maintaining their autonomy, we encourage you to schedule a visit and come experience the Bellaire at Devonshire difference for yourself!