How to Talk to Elderly Parents about Driving

senior elderly drivingAs our parents age, the changes that come with it can be difficult. From long-term-care, to will-writing, the list of “hot topics” with aging parents is a long one! Interestingly enough, one of the toughest conversations to have might be about taking the car keys away from Mom or Dad. In a study conducted by Pfizer and Generations United, it was found that 40% of surveyed participants were more uncomfortable asking their older parent to stop driving than discussing end of life issues. For those who don’t know where to start, we’ve put together some tips on how to approach the topic with aging parents.

Start the conversation early
If your parent has not yet gotten to the point that they need to stop driving, then it’s best to create a plan for when the time does come. The involved parent should be a part of this discussion so that everyone is on the same page if/when that day arrives. Make them aware when any changes in their driving are noticed, or if there was a recent diagnosis that could create difficulties driving in the future. Having the parent involved will give them a sense of control. This way it’s more of a joint decision, rather than something being taken away. For those whose parents are already at the point that they need to stop driving, some of the next few tips may help.

Know the signs
Signs that an older adult’s driving skills should be evaluated include:

  • Repeated near-misses with stationary objects
  • Repeated new scratches and dents on the vehicle
  • Inability to turn the head to check blind spots
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Missing stop signs and other traffic signals, slowed response time
  • Driving too slowly on highways
  • Getting lost frequently

Research alternative transportation options
Losing the ability to drive can create fear that one will also lose their freedom or independence. Sometimes a new driving schedule is enough to increase safety, like promising not to drive at night. However, alternative transportation may be necessary. Having a plan in place for how your parent will get around is a great way to provide reassurance. There are many ways to arrange transportation:

  • Family and friends: Having an available and trusted family member or friend transport your parent can be a great option. Arranging a scheduled day or two out of the week can make the arrangement run smoothly for everyone.
  • Public transportation: Many counties offer discounted or even free transportation programs for seniors. Do some research to find out what options are available in your county.
  • Taxi or ride-share services: Many taxi companies or rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are great options for those who do not need assistance with mobility. Most of these services even allow for clients to arrange a pick up days in advance.
  • Non-medical senior transportation services: with drivers who are trained to transport seniors and adults with disabilities, one can rest assured that their loved one is riding in a safe environment. This is a great option for parents who use wheelchairs, walkers, or are unable to use stairs. Wilf Transport at the Wilf Campus for Senior Living provides non-medical transportation services for seniors and disabled adults throughout the NJ area.

Discuss the Risks
According to the CDC, older drivers, particularly those aged 75+, have higher crash death rates than middle-aged drivers (aged 35-54). Higher crash death rates among this age group are primarily due to increased vulnerability to injury in a crash. Vulnerability can increase due to age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning (ability to reason and remember), as well as physical changes. It is important for the parent involved to understand that continuing to drive could risk their safety and the safety of others. Even outside of safety, there are monetary risks to driving while impaired by age. Whether it be continuous repairs from damage to the vehicle, or large sums due to lawsuits, the risks of losing savings may not be worth it.

Suggest a Skills Test
Having a professional tell your parent that they shouldn’t be driving may hold more weight than telling them on your own. Suggest that they visit the local DMV to retest their driving skills. Be prepared, however that they may pass the test, therefore making it more difficult to convince them to stop driving. There is also the possibility that their license can be taken away, sparking resentment. So, discretion and discussion are advised before making this decision. In New Jersey and many other states, a doctor can request a re-examination of skills by the DMV if they believe that a driver is at risk. Taking this route, with the permission  of the parent involved, may be a good option.

It’s important to be stern if the situation becomes non-negotiable, but don’t forget to have sympathy for your loved one. This is a big change and will take time to adjust to. Remember that the conversation is not about your loved one being difficult, it’s about their safety.

For those interested in learning about the benefits of non-medical transportation services, Wilf Transport is here to help. For more information, or to arrange transportation, contact us at 732.649.3502 or 732-735-6120, or email transport@wilfcampus.org.