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Worried About an Older Driver? How to Have “The Talk”

“When did a simple trip to the grocery store become so dangerous? Is that a traffic ticket on the floor? Oh no, she is using two feet to drive, and this isn’t a stick shift! Gosh, I haven’t stomped on the imaginary brake pedal this much since Jimmy was 15 years old and learning to drive. I can’t let her drive back home. Maybe she shouldn’t be driving at all.”

Have you ever had this experience?

Family members often worry about their aging loved one’s ability to continue driving safely and with good reason.

There are almost 42 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the U.S. And in 2016, about 7,400 older adults were killed and more than 290,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of being involved in a fatal crash begins to increase among drivers ages 70-74 and is highest among drivers 85 and up.

To help assess whether an older adult is no longer a safe driver, here are some warning signs from the National Institute on Aging:

  • The driver does not follow the rules of the road, such as speed limits and the right-of-way.
  • There are multiple “new” dents in the car from accidents or near-accidents. Some drivers may not notice these.
  • Two of more traffic tickets within the last two years.
  • The driver confuses the gas and brake pedal.
  • Anxiety about driving at night.
  • Complaints about speed limits or actions of other drivers.
  • Issues with vision, hearing or movement hinder the driver’s abilities. When eyes, ears and flexibility deteriorate, the driver could miss traffic signs, fail to hear horns from other cars and could be unable to turn the steering wheel.

How Should You Begin the Conversation?

If your loved one’s driving skills have diminished and are endangering others on the road, you may need to have that talk. It can be uncomfortable and awkward. However, it’s worth it.

Scott Greenburg is a host on the radio show “Oh My God, I’m Getting Older and So Is My Mom” and president of ComForCare Palm Beach. His book, also titled “Oh My God, I’m Getting Older and So Is My Mom,” tackles issues concerning caregiving for an elderly parent. In his chapter about driving dangers, Greenburg says to approach the subject with compassion and consideration.

“If you are accusatory or critical, your parent is likely to become defensive, will probably dig in and you’ll find yourself running into a big psychic ‘STOP’ sign,” said Greenburg (p. 38).

Hanging up the car keys takes away some of your loved one’s independence. It’s important to view this from their perspective. Your parent may feel sad that the ability to drive wherever and whenever is gone. Your parent may be indignant, incensed and isolated. Even though it may be difficult, the goal is for your loved one to continue to stay active and participate in favorite activities while being safe.

If your loved one does not believe there is a problem, enlist their doctor, friend or relative to help them to understand.

If you need help with transportation, ComForCare Home Care can help. Many of our offices offer transportation services, so your parent can continue purling at the knitting club, winning at the bingo hall or laughing at a comedy in the movie theater. It’s just one of the many ways we can help. 

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