A Hard Decision: Having the “Stop Driving” Talk With Elderly Drivers

Steering aging parents out of the driver’s seat is something most caregivers dread because they know how they would feel without wheels. But there is a way to having the “stop driving” talk with elderly drivers without them feeling as though you are prying the keys out of their hands. The goal is to subtly encourage seniors to reach the conclusion on their own.

Experts agree that the best approach is to bring the subject up with senior drivers gradually. In the experience of geriatric psychologist David Solie, author of How to Say It to Seniors, the biggest mistake is assuming that drivers will agree to stop after just one discussion. Instead, he recommends letting them have a chance to reflect after several conversations. The successful method for having the “stop driving” talk with your senior parents, then, is to plan four short discussions, each focused on one aspect of the problem.

Telltale Signs of Problems Driving

The first is making mention of telltale signs of difficulty navigating the road, such as unexplained dents, traffic tickets, or minor accidents. Solie advises that you listen deductively during this conversation, since the drivers may be aware they have a problem and admit to it indirectly.

During the second chat, bring up statistics to help your parents come to grips with the seriousness of the situation. You might point out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2011, more than 5,400 people age 65 and older were killed in vehicle crashes and another 185,000 suffered serious injuries. Also in 2011, senior drivers accounted for about 19 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Medical Issues That Impact Driving

Your third conversation should explore the medical aspects of aging that may impact safe driving. According to State Farm Insurance, key dangers of elderly drivers include adverse side effects of medications, hearing loss, visual processing speed, head and neck flexibility, and the impact of a stroke, dementia, or arthritis.

If you continue to encounter stiff resistance at this stage, suggest that your parents take the AAA Interactive driving evaluation or offer to pay for a consultation with a driving rehabilitation specialist — most often found in occupational therapy practices — who can assess their skills.

Creating a Mobility Plan

The final conversation should ideally help your loved ones develop a mobility plan with transportation alternatives, being sure to ask for their input. Options for alternative transportation can include:

  • Offering to take them shopping once a week;
  • Hiring drivers from a senior home care agency;
  • Trading in their cars to the Independent Transportation America, a nonprofit in partnership with Liberty Mutual, in exchange for the cost of rides;
  • Investigating ride-sharing services such as Rides in Sight (855-607-4337); and other ideas.

The goal is to give your parents positive choices so they realize that they can retain their independence and freedom to go where they please. If you can provide them with the tools to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments while retaining their dignity and mobility, you may be able to succeed in making the hard decision feel like the right one.

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