For many of us, getting our driver’s license as a teenager was a sign of independence and freedom. Imagine reaching an age in which this ability to drive yourself places is taken away from you. Understandably, older adults can find it hard to lose the sense of independence that comes with driving. However, the changes that come with age, such as problems with vision, hearing, cognition, and reflexes, can eventually impair our ability to drive to the point where it’s no longer safe. Having that conversation of decreasing and/or stopping your aging loved one’s driving can be challenging to navigate, but important in order to keep everyone safe.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when having this conversation with your loved one:
Express care and concern for others and their safety. Allow space for them to express their frustrations and then respond empathetically. This should be a conversation and a shared decision.
Observe your loved one drive.
Ride along during several trips and at different times to understand their driving performance under different road conditions. Take notes about your observations - both positive and negative. Be aware of signs that indicate they may need to stop driving. Examples include accidents, traffic tickets, complaints, or anxiety about driving at night.
Talk to their primary care doctor.
Encourage them to get a check-up to see if any physical and/or mental health issues may be interfering with their driving ability. Sometimes, minor changes such as a change in medication can improve an older adult's functional abilities. Accompany them to the doctor if you can. Ask to see if the doctor would be willing to talk to your loved one if they are unable to drive due to medical conditions.
Explore alternative transportation options.
In order to help maintain independence, talk to your loved one about their transportation needs. Generate a list of alternative local transportation services and other options such as family, friends, taxi, and ridesharing. Provide information such as scheduling, phone numbers, and the cost for these options.
Help ease the transition from driver to passenger by accompanying them on the bus the first time or troubleshooting their transportation issues. Emphasize that they will save money if they sold their car. You can also offer to “hold” their keys for safe keeping.
Collaborate on an action plan.
Initiate this conversation about driving early to make their transition gradual. Organize all the information and mutually agree to an action plan. You may have to revisit this conversation multiple times.
In addition, The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence put together an excellent resource that takes an in-depth look into driving evaluations.