September 10, 2018

As kids or as adults, plenty of us have some of our warmest memories tied up with cars. A long road trip with friends or family, or a night at a drive-in theater – these are experiences to be treasured, and they’re deeply connected to being behind the wheel.

For many people, getting a driver’s license is a major milestone when it comes to growing up. And even day-to-day chores are often made easier with a car. How many of us hit the road everyday to pick up groceries, to visit friends, to drop the kids off at school?

In America, driving is a favorite pastime, and a rite of passage – and it can be hard for your older loved ones to give it up.

Even when health or lifestyle changes make driving dangerous, it can still be difficult for your parents to give it up. After all, it’s a matter not just of convenience, but of independence.

So, what can you do when it’s time to step in? What are the warning signs that it’s time for your elderly loved one to give up driving, and what can you do to make this transition easier?

Why Driving Can Be More Difficult for Seniors

Many people spend decades behind the wheel of a car. But as we age, there are all sorts of health conditions and age-related changes that can take effect, and impair someone’s ability to drive safely. These changes can:

  • Affect memory
  • Impact decision-making
  • Make it harder to see or hear clearly
  • Slow reaction times in crucial moments
  • Make it harder to brake, shift gears, or turn a steering wheel
  • Cause someone to be distracted more easily

In other cases, some of these changes could be caused by taking medications, which could have side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, or blurred vision.

In any case, there are many factors that can impact a senior’s ability to drive well, for the sake of not just their own safety, but also the wellbeing of those around them.

Warning Signs to Watch For

When is it time to get between an older loved one and their vehicle? This is an important question to ask, as it could make all the difference for their safety, and the safety of others.

Here are some warning signals to watch out for, which could all suggest that it’s time for your mom or dad to stop driving:

  • Unexplained dings or notches on car
  • Slow reaction times, particularly in urgent or dangerous situations
  • Ignoring or missing traffic signals or street signs
  • Mixing up gas and brake pedals
  • Weaving or straddling lanes
  • An uptick in traffic tickets
  • Seeming to get disoriented or lost, even when driving to a familiar location
  • Physical signs of struggle in the car – straining to shift gears, lifting up foot to step on the brake, leaning forward to see
  • Long time has elapsed since last physical or eye exam

How to Talk With Your Parents About Giving Up Driving

For all the reasons that we mentioned earlier, trying to stop a parent from driving – or even just broaching the topic – can be tough. Trying to interfere with a parent’s daily routine, or a favorite pastime, can easily lead to frustration, resentment, anger, or depression.

For many adults, being told that they can no longer drive will make them feel like they’re ceding their independence. This can cause a discussion to quickly blow up into a lasting argument. In other cases, an attempt to discuss driving issues might be met with firm denial on your mom or dad’s part. They may be too proud to admit that they need help, or else unable to recognize that they have a problem.

Bottom line? This is a tricky discussion, but a crucial one. And there are a few things you can do to make it easier for yourself and your parent:

Be open and honest

When the time comes to talk to your parents about their driving habits, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and open. Share your genuine concerns, and make it clear that this isn’t just about your family member’s safety, but also the safety of their friends, neighbors, and community.

At the same time, having this conversation may be easier if you make it just that – a conversation. Try to avoid being didactic or commanding, and listen to your loved one’s counterarguments or concerns. Having your parent cooperate and get behind a plan will make everything go much more smoothly, compared to “laying down the law” and trying to enforce it.

Present alternatives

Most lifelong drivers won’t be eager to give up the convenience of having a car, ready to go at any time. Be ready to present alternative solutions that can work for all parties, in order to answer the inevitable question: “But how am I supposed to get around?”

Today, there are more options for seniors in need of transportation than ever before. Be ready to talk over and present multiple options, including setting up a schedule for getting rides from family and friends, paratransit, rideshare services (such as Lyft or Uber), or public transit (many buses and trains offer senior discounts). Others will best be served by hiring a professional caregiver with a vehicle, who can help give your loved one rides when they need to run errands, see a doctor, or just get out of the house.

Bring on outside help

When trying to convince your loved one that they need to make a change, they may be more willing to listen to their physicians over their family. A doctor may be able to fully articulate the reasons for your loved one to stop driving, supported with a full medical report. This healthcare professional could be your parent’s primary care physician, or perhaps their optometrist/opthamologist.

In other cases, you may want to consider going to your state DMV for aid. Caregivers can report their loved ones to the state, who may launch an investigation and test to see if they’re still fit to be driving.

Looking for Driving or Companionship Services?

When you’re looking for help providing for your elderly loved one, Companions for Seniors would be happy to step in. Whether you’re looking for in-home care services, professional driving services, or even just an experienced guide to talk things over with, Companions for Seniors can help.

Locally owned in Chicago, Illinois, with clients throughout the city and suburbs, our mission is to help seniors maintain their independence and a higher quality of life, while also giving family caregivers the support and respite they need. Our Companions can assist with your loved one’s activities of daily living, and provide driving services. All of our Companions are licensed, bonded, and insured, and will use a company-owned vehicle to help take your loved one shopping, to doctor’s appointments, or to handle other errands.

Have any more questions? Curious about what a personalized care plan for your loved one might look like? Don’t hesitate to get in touch today!