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One of the most difficult conversations baby boomers are currently having with their parents relates to whether it is time to hand over the car keys. Granted, some people get lucky and their parents realize they can’t drive any longer without encouragement from their worried children. Understandably, the idea of giving up that much independence is difficult for many elderly people.
The aging process is brutal, causing vision problems, hearing loss and slower reflexes. The combination of these physical issues creates the perfect storm increasing the likelihood of car accidents and serious injury. Other contributing medical conditions that cause problems are glaucoma, arthritis, macular degeneration, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. As a practical caregiver, adult children must protect their parents and others by knowing when it’s time for Mom and Dad to give up their car keys.
Warning Signs That It Is Time for a Senior to Stop Driving
There is no exact age when people are no longer safe to drive. Everyone ages differently depending on their overall physical and mental health. It is not unusual for a person in good health to be capable of driving safely in their 90s. It’s also not unusual to witness a person in their mid or late 60s who is no longer able to continue driving due to compromised health issues. That’s why it’s up to us all to watch out for each other and be prepared to offer some loving advice when it’s necessary.
Some signs that it is time to stop driving are listed below.
- Getting lost on roads driven on regularly
- Having more accidents or close calls
- Driving slower or faster than necessary
- Changing lanes improperly
- Having more dents or scratches on the car
- Getting numerous traffic tickets
- Running through stop signs or red lights
- Having a lot of trouble parking
- Having difficulty turning left
Strategies for Telling Your Parent It Is Time for Them to Stop Driving
Being prepared for a talk with your parents about whether they should continue driving is critical for making it as easy as possible for you and your parent. Below are some tips to consider.
1. Write down what you want to say.
When there is a possibility that emotions could run high, it is always smart to plan out exactly what you want to say. As roles switch between adult children and parents, there can be resentment when it is time for this sensitive discussion to take place.
2. Begin discussing this sensitive subject early.
It is always a good idea to ease into difficult conversations instead of risking an awkward and overwhelming discussion sure to leave your parent upset and taken by surprise. It makes sense to start discussing driving privileges as soon as it is apparent that their ability to drive safely is declining. Long before you ask for their keys, you can prepare them by saying that at some point in the not-so-distant future, they will need to stop driving. Referring to a diagnosis to blame is always a compassionate way to show understanding for the difficulties they face.
3. Recommend safety precautions they can take to stay safe.
This intermediate step is another way to allow your parent to ease into the idea of not driving. You might suggest that they not drive in bad weather or after dark. You can also suggest that they call you to drive instead of driving any long distances. By taking the decision one step at a time, your parent will begin to realize that they shouldn’t be driving and will need to stop.
4. Recommend they discuss the safety of driving with their physician or eye doctor.
There’s nothing like cold hard facts from the results provided by a driving test or eye exam to jar a person into reality. Hopefully, your parents won’t be so difficult to convince that you have to resort to this strategy. But, there are some people who can’t emotionally handle the facts. If they fail these tests, then children can step out of the decision-making process entirely and turn it over to the doctor or DMV. It will be the end of the discussion.
5. Appeal to their loving nature and point out the risks to them and other drivers.
Chances are, they are well aware of the risks. Discussing the emotional distress an accident would cause and how it would affect you and the rest of the family if they got hurt are good strategies to use. Be sure to talk about the innocent people on the road that they could harm. Don’t leave out the financial risk they take by driving. If they hurt or kill another driver, they can be sued and lose their retirement nest egg.
Provide Alternate Transportation Solutions
Having a solution for the perceived transportation problem that is being thrust on your parents is key for gaining their cooperation and lowering their anxiety levels. The good news today is that there are so many more ways to get from one point to another than ever before. Help your parents set up Uber and Lyft on their phone. Take a trial run with them if they appear nervous about it. Remind them that you are there to help them in any way possible so they can maintain their independence.
Many baby boomers are already facing this cruel fact of life themselves. Driving means independence. When it is time to talk to your parents about making this huge sacrifice for their safety and the safety of others, it can be difficult. By carefully planning the discussion and having good answers for how your parents can maintain their independence without driving a car, you are sure to have more success.