Are your elderly parents still driving? Driving is one of the hardest things to give up in our society. Getting your license was more than a rite of passage. It was your ticket to freedom and independence. With a set of wheels you could go anywhere and if you live outside of a major metropolitan area then driving is necessary for getting to work, shopping and going to medical appointments. Is it any wonder our elders hate to give it up? It is one more sign that they are getting old and raises the specter of decline and dependency on others.
For families and caregivers it can be a tricky situation. They may not live close enough or have the time to drive their parents to doctor appointments, the grocery store and other activities. Bringing up concerns about an elder person’s ability to continue to drive can lead to arguments and hurt feelings.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) study, older drivers are second only to the very youngest drivers for their rate of accidents and fatalities. It is a serious situation.
Some factors to consider are the facts that aging tends to result in a decline in strength, coordination, flexibility, slowed ability to process, problems with memory, decline in hearing and vision, slowed reflexes, and decreased range of motion. Some medications and illnesses also make driving a hazard.
So what should you do if you are concerned about your parent’s ability to drive? First of all, be respectful. Express your concern that maybe something is compromising their ability to drive safely. Maybe they need to have their vision or hearing checked. Maybe you have noticed they cannot turn their head far enough to check for traffic or they might not have enough strength or coordination to switch between the gas and the break. Be specific with your concerns and suggest a checkup with the appropriate health care professional.
Consider an evaluation by an occupational therapist. There might be some modifications that can be made to allow your parent to continue driving such as a knob on the steering wheel, hand controls for gas and brakes, etc. It might also be that limitations may need to be placed such as daytime driving only. Caregivers might also suggest a senior driving program or an evaluation by Driver Rehabilitation Specialist.
If it is no longer safe for your elderly parent to drive you will have an easier time convincing them if professionals confirm this for you and they know you have made every effort to help them keep the privilege. Also, there is strength in numbers so partner with family members or close friends. Help them find viable alternative transportation such as public transportation, elder transportation or even hiring someone to drive them around.
What do you do when they still refuse?
If appropriate evaluations and recommendations have been made and there is fear for the safety of you loved one and/or others, there are other steps you can take. Make an anonymous call to the Department of Motor Vehicles, have a law enforcement official talk with them, take their keys, disable the vehicle or perhaps sell the vehicle.
These steps may be hard for you to take but not nearly as hard as the consequences that could occur should your parent kill or injure themselves or someone else.