Seniors & Driving

Are you concerned about your parent’s ability to drive? Do you often grip the seat or gasp out loud while driving with your elderly aunt? Consider the following information before you have a conversation with a loved one about their driving.

When should an aging parent or loved one give up driving?
If you are concerned about a loved one driving, make sure you have all the information before you conclude that they are unfit to drive.

Things to consider:

  • Have you been driving with them?
  • Have you noticed their reactions slowing?
  • Is their memory fading?
  • Are their hands shaking?
  • Is it difficult for them to control their legs?
  • Is their eyesight poor?

Due to the differences in health and wellbeing of each person, it is hard to specify a particular age at which a loved one should stop driving. Don’t be concerned by your family member’s age, be concerned about the state of his or her body and mind.

What does driving mean to the person?
Driving is a habit, like any other, that becomes part of our everyday life. Just as getting a licence for the first time represented a newfound freedom, losing a licence takes away that freedom. That is a difficult and delicate adjustment for anyone to make. Imagine if you were told to stop driving, without any alternative offered. What would that stop you from being able to do? It is a confronting thought, especially for someone who has driven for decades.

Tips for how to tell if a senior might need to stop driving
Below are some suggestions for what to check next time you are driving with a loved one. They are all indicators that the driver is becoming a danger to themselves and others:

  1. They become confused at intersections.
  2. They stop checking the rear when changing lanes.
  3. They have significant difficulty deciding when to merge on major highways.
  4. They are slower at reacting to changes in driving conditions.
  5. They have had minor/major accidents recently.

(AAA is an excellent resource for senior drivers.)

How to tell someone you love they are no longer a safe driver 
If someone you love is no longer safe to drive, but isn’t aware of it, you need to break it to them gently. Being a scaremonger- “You could kill someone!”- will only lead to a defensive attitude and even a stubbornness to continue driving to prove you wrong.
If you tell someone they can’t drive, what are their other options?

  • Can they easily access public transportation?
  • Can they sell their car and use the money for taxi fares?
  • Will you offer to drive them?

Be open in discussing how they feel about driving. It could be embarrassing for them to admit the failings of their body. Try to be supportive and explain the alternatives available so that they still have freedom, without endangering their lives or others. You could ask them to self-evaluate, using the test available on the AAA website.

The role of the physician or geriatric care specialist 
Physicians and geriatric care specialists should be able to advise how much they believe their patient is capable of doing, but due to their caseloads, they often won’t know the full capabilities of their patient. They don’t drive with them, so how could they know? A physician or geriatric care specialist is aware of the delicate nature of the situation. The best they can do is to identify the medical conditions a person suffers, and let them know that because of these conditions, it is best not to drive. Sometimes, an authoritative voice will be listened to.

Talk it out
Be gentle in your explanations and talk it out with your loved one. It is their freedom at stake, but also the livelihood of themselves and others. This is a big stage of transition for them, and an indication of their life slowing down. If you’re aware of their concerns, you can help them to better adjust and to figure out alternative ways to get around while still enjoying their life as usual.

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