How to Talk to Your Older Loved One About Driving... Without Upsetting Them
There is no age at which a person living in Kentucky must stop driving, but there is a time in each of our lives when we should stop driving. When is it time to stop? It's never an easy call.
As caregivers, we're rightfully concerned about the safety of our loved one and the safety of others.
Driving is a complex endeavor. It requires focus and concentration at all times. Is your older loved one up to the task?
We need to keep in mind driving is a key aspect of maintaining independence for many older adults. But as difficult as approaching the subject can be, if you have any concerns that your loved one is no longer safe behind the wheel it’s important to start a conversation sooner rather than later.
Check Your Assumptions About Age
There is no arbitrary cutoff as to when someone should stop driving. Just because your loved one is in their 80s or 90’s, doesn't mean they are an unsafe driver. But factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, slowed reflexes and worsening health conditions can become a problem. As we age we have a reduction in strength, coordination and flexibility all which can impede our ability to be safe on the roads.
Notice When Your Loved One's Driving Isn't Safe
With age comes changes in our physical, mental and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s ability to drive safely. These changes can occur so slowly that we might not even recognize they are happening. Stay aware by looking for these signs:
- Unexplained dents and scratches to their car and/or damage to their fence, garage door, driveway area, or mailbox.
- Frequent ‘close calls’
- Increased traffic tickets or warnings by the police
- Ignoring or missing stop signs or traffic lights
- Weaving between or straddling lanes
- Difficulty keeping an appropriate or constant speed or ‘riding’ the brakes
- Unable to navigate familiar routes or disoriented with familiar places
Stop Unsafe Driving – Start a Conversation With Sensitivity
Talking with your older loved about their driving will be a sensitive subject. Driving represents more than just a license and a key; it represents freedom and independence.
Begin the conversation when everyone is relaxed
Acknowledge that giving up the keys will be difficult and approach the conversation with respect. Find a time that works for everyone with no immediate commitments ahead of you. Make sure everyone is rested and ready to talk.
Don’t expect a ‘one and done’ discussion.
Many caregivers are met with resistance on this topic. That’s normal! Every few weeks keep respectfully re-visiting the conversation.
Focus on physical limitations, not age and cognitive decline
This approach worked when we had a conversation about driving with my dad. We focused on his physical limitations like decreased vision, hearing and the other factors discussed earlier. Plus, we talked about his back pain and leg pain. He more readily accepted these physical reasons.
Give specific examples of your concerns and recent incidents
“Your back pain is making it more difficult for you to turn in your seat to see behind you as you back out” or “I noticed you straddled the middle lane 3 separate times on our way home from the store.”
Emphasize other transportation options
This takes some prior research on your part to see what options are available near them. In Lexington, ITNBluegrass is a great alternative. Or set up a ride calendar among family and friends to make sure that your loved one is getting out and doing the things they enjoy.
Get as many folks as you can involved
Think about family members, doctor’s, friends and clergy. The more people who are involved, the more likely the discussion will continue and they'll see how important it is to let go of the keys. Your loved one might be more receptive to a more impartial party like doctors or clergy, rather than a family member.
Rely on community resources if needed
There's ways you can help your loved one determine their driving skill level, and even strengthen their driving skills if that's the best option. Resources are also available to help you plan and conduct that difficult conversation when it’s time for your older loved one to stop driving.
AARP Smart Driver Course
“This course is designed to help reduce the number of car accidents that involve seniors by discussing changes that occur as a body ages and how that relates to driving,” said Candy Pettry, course instructor and district coordinator for AARP Driver Safety. Candy is Kentucky’s first Eldercare Navigator and works at UK HealthCare. Part of her job is to meet with patients in the Emergency Department that have been involved in a motor vehicle accident. “Helping people understand the aging process and teaching a few tricks to help seniors adjust to changes in driving skills are imperative to improve statistics for injuries as a result of motor vehicle accidents." For more information on the AARP Smart Driving Course, please contact Candy at 859-323-1890.
Driver Evaluation Program at Cardinal Hill
Evaluations are conducted by licensed occupational therapists. This can be a voluntary assessment, or it could be required by a physician or the KY Medical Review Board in some circumstances (see below). The comprehensive testing enables professionals to make a reliable recommendation based on medical knowledge and driving skill. For more information, please contact 859-367-7121 to speak with the program coordinator, Kim Osburn.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
If push comes to shove the transportation cabinet's Medical Review Board has an Affidavit that can be completed by your loved one’s physician or by the family (2 signatures are required if done by non-medical personnel) that will allow the Commonwealth to make the decision as to your loved one’s ability to continue to drive based on their medical records. Once the Cabinet receives the signed and notarized Affidavit, your loved one will be sent medical forms to be completed by their physician(s) and returned within 45 days. Failure to comply will result in license suspension. For more information, please contact the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet at 502-564-1257.
Even though driving and safety can be a difficult topic to talk about with your older loved one, it is important to initiate it to ensure everyone’s safety.