It May Be Time to Give Up the Keys
Just because you are a senior does not mean you need to stop driving, but it does mean you need to take extra precautions due to the natural changes in our physical and cognitive abilities.
Many seniors are already taking precautions. They are more likely to wear seat belts, observe speed limits, drive sober, drive less after dark, avoid rush-hour traffic and not venture out in bad weather. However, if a senior driver is involved in an auto accident, they are more likely to be injured or killed. Those age 80 and older have the highest accident-related death rate of all age categories.
The AAA Foundation found that senior drivers:
- Age 60-69 had fewer collisions than any other age group
- Age 70-79 had collision rates similar to or lower than drivers ages 30-59
- Age 80+ had a collision rate higher than drivers ages 30-19, but lower than those younger than 30.
Age-related changes in vision, memory and decision-making abilities, impaired hearing, and slowed reflexes can be the cause of many older driver accidents. Physical considerations such as reduced strength, coordination and flexibility can impede a senior’s ability to be safe on the roads. And because of their age and fragility, it is much harder for seniors to recover after being injured in an auto accident.
Know the warning signs
When you start to notice warning signs, it is time to talk to your older loved one. This will be a difficult conversation. Driving represents independence, self-sufficiency and freedom. It’s the ability to go where you want, when you want. Talking about giving up the keys is a sensitive subject and needs to be approached with respect.
Warning signs include:
- Unexplained dents and/or scratches to the car
- Unexplained damage to their garage, driveway or mailbox
- Traffic tickets piling up
- Slower reaction time or forgetfulness behind the wheel
- Ignoring stop signs or traffic lights
- Weaving between or straddling lanes
- Struggling to keep an appropriate speed
- Inability to navigate familiar routes
So how do you stop unsafe driving?
- As with any difficult conversation, make sure everyone is relaxed, rested and ready to talk. Arrange your schedule so you have plenty of time to talk it through.
- Don’t expect a one-and-done discussion. Resistance and anger are normal. Every few weeks, respectfully revisit the conversation.
- Focus on physical limitations, not age and cognitive decline. Physical limitations like decreased vision, hearing and slower reflexes should be mentioned. Your loved one may readily accept these physical reasons and you may never need to mention cognitive decline and encroaching dementia.
- Give specific examples of your concerns and recent incidents. Try, “I noticed you straddled the middle lane three separate times on our way home from the store. That concerns me.”
- Emphasize other transportation options. In Lexington, ITNBluegrass is a great alternative. Uber and Lyft are options. Both companies are working to find alternatives ways for seniors to request a ride without the use of a smartphone. You can also set up a ride calendar through Google Calendar or Lotsa Helping Hands to help family and friends ensure your loved one is getting out and doing the things they enjoy or need to do.
- Involve many people in the discussion, such as family members, doctors, friends and clergy. The more people who are involved, the more likely the discussion will continue, and your older loved one may realize it is time to let go of the keys. Your loved one might be more receptive to an impartial party, rather than a family member.
Rely on community resources to help your loved one determine their driving skill level, and even strengthen their driving skills if that's the best option. These resources are 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
Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital Outpatient Services: Driver Evaluation Program
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet: Medical Review Board
Giving up the keys will be a significant loss for your loved one. It may lead to increased isolation, dependency and depression. Help them through this transition by checking in with them regularly, making sure they are socially connected and offering them support. To learn more, attend our March 24 event, “Should dad still be driving?”
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,