When Should my Parents Stop Driving?
I once had an older gentlemen tell me he gave up his keys willingly. “I don’t think I was even showing signs I needed to stop driving, but I kept having these dreams where I was getting into accidents, and it was my fault.” One night after a nightmare involving a family with children; my friend hung up his keys for good.
Quitting driving usually isn’t done as willingly. It’s is a lifeline, and giving it up can feel like giving up a large part of your independence. Keep this in mind when talking with your parents about their driving. Never approach the situation demanding “Mom I saw that scratch on the back of the car, so you need to give up your keys.” Nine times out of ten this will only make the person defensive and hold a firmer grip. But if you are concerned about that scratch on the back of the car, it is important you speak with them immediately as it concerns their safety and others.
If you’re not certain of what you should even be looking out for, some initial signs can include minor dents or scratches in the car, traffic tickets, or missing appointments due to getting lost on the way there. But if you really want to get a clear idea, the best way to check is just to be the passenger. Are your parents swerving, missing stop signs or lights, or having difficulties remembering where things are?
If you are noticing these signs, instead of jumping their case that they can never drive again, first try suggesting a driving evaluation by a doctor. Your older adult can have their vision, hearing, reflexes, and memory examined and sometimes remedy smaller problems that are affecting their driving such as removing cataracts or getting a hearing aid. If your doctor thinks it’s more serious, then at least you have a medical opinion which can help your case when broaching the conversation.
But before the conversation, come up with ways to replace driving. For some, public transportation may be an option. But statistics show that almost three-quarters of older adults live in areas with little to no transportation alternatives. If this is the case or your older adult isn’t comfortable with public transportation, call some local community centers in your area and ask if they offer any assistance with transportation. Additionally, ask your neighbors and friends if anyone wouldn’t mind driving your dad to his appointment once a week and get a list of people and their availability going. Lyft and Uber is also an option for some, or it may be time to hire a caregiver a few times a week to fill in any gaps. Whatever it is, make sure you’re not leaving your parents to feel alone and isolated.
Lastly, when you do finally sit down for the conversation, put yourself in your parent’s shoes. This time of life usually comes with a lot of loss. Your older adult may be experiencing the loss of friends, significant others, jobs, sometimes even homes, so many tend to hold onto things they can control. Don’t interrupt them during the conversation, listen to their concerns and work together to try and find a solution.