How to Have the ‘Driving’ Talk With Your Aging Parent

In Health by Companions for Seniors

According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are more than 30 million senior drivers in the U.S. And for many adult children of seniors, having a parent behind the wheel means more time spent watching, wondering, and, oftentimes, worrying about your aging parents’ safety.

For many families, having an older parent or relative behind the wheel can be a source of stress.

As we get older, natural changes – to our vision, hearing, memory, motor skills, and so on – can affect our ability to drive safely. And often, it is the family who spots the warning “yellow lights,” before an aging parent acknowledges, or even realizes, that they need help. Warning signs might that it might be time for the senior in your life to stop or reassess their driving include:

  • Spotting unexplained dings or notches on the car
  • Seeing traffic tickets pile up
  • Experiencing a parent’s slow reaction time or forgetfulness behind the wheel
  • Witnessing your parents weaving or straddling lanes, or driving erratically
  • Witnessing your parents physically struggling with some aspects of driving, like shifting gears, braking or accelerating, or getting in and out of the vehicle

But when you’re seeing these, and other, road signs that it’s time for a parent to cut back on their driving, how do you bring this topic up with your loved one? It can be a daunting topic to address!

In fact, in a recent survey, nearly 40% of respondents reported that the single hardest conversation to have with their aging parents was about giving up driving.

This makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, many older adults will push back against any criticisms of their driving. And for many, many people, driving is about so much more than getting from Point A to Point B. It’s a sign of independence, tied up to countless happy memories from childhood and young adulthood. It can be hard for older adults to shift gears, and realize that they may need to cut down on their driving.

So, what can you do to make things easier when it’s time to talk about driving with your aging parents? Here are five strategies that can make this difficult conversation an easier one:

1.) Choose the Right Time and Place

Your older parent or loved one might be more willing to listen to your points after a serious incident, such as a fender bender or a health scare. But, with this being said, it’s often better to start this conversation well in advance, rather than waiting for something serious to happen. It’s important to have this vital talk, before it may become too late.

Talking with your parent early on, well before you need to start being concerned about their driving, might be beneficial when it comes time to have a serious conversation down the line. In many cases, it might also help to make this a family conversation, and enlist siblings, aunts and uncles, and even your loved one’s trusted medical professionals and caregivers to speak up, as well.

Avoid the impulse to make this feel like a huge event, or an “intervention.” This is a conversation that might be more productive to have multiple times, or in bits and pieces over multiple days.

2.) Avoid Being Confrontational

Many older adults will “dig in” if they feel that they are being confronted, or if they are made to feel as if you are trying to “take their keys” away. Rather than putting your parent on the defensive, make it clear that this is an open dialogue. If your parent does begin to argue, stay calm, and resist the temptation to change the subject, or give in to personal attacks.

It might also help to turn the spotlight off of your senior relative. So, for instance, instead of focusing so much on the senior’s ability to drive, a more productive line of conversation may be to discuss what it might take to recover after a serious automotive accident, or to explore how gifting the car to a younger family member might be a great opportunity for the family. Reminding your loved one that they are not the only person being affected might put things in perspective, and lead to a different, less loaded conversation.

3.) Be Open and Willing to Listen

Above all, it’s important to go into this dialogue with empathy and compassion. Put yourself in your parent’s shoes – wouldn’t it be difficult to be told that it’s time to give up a convenient source of transportation, and maybe even a favorite pastime? Take this into consideration, and remember that you won’t necessarily have all the answers. It’s important to listen to your parents, and take their wants and needs into account. Truly listen to and acknowledge your loved one’s thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

4.) Use Specifics

When talking about these important, “big ticket” matters, it can be tempting to be vague and noncommittal. Instead of falling back on generalities, be ready with specifics. For instance, have a viable list of driving alternatives ready to go, before you talk with your parents. Similarly, it may help if you can recall specific instances in which your parent’s driving ability was an issue, or put a family member’s health and safety at risk, rather than talking around the subject.

5.) Present Alternatives and Options

As you prepare to discuss driving with your older parents, it’s also going to be important that you’re prepared to discuss driving alternatives and solutions. How will your parent still be able to make it to their doctor’s appointments, social events, and so on?

Before the conversation, equip yourself with information about public transit options, shuttles, and driving services in your area. Or, beforehand, talk with your loved one’s network of family and friends to come up with a prospective driving schedule, to help show that people will be available to help them keep up their commuting habits.

In many cases, seniors may benefit from having a professional in-home companion, who can assist with driving services when necessary.

If you have an elderly loved one in your life who might benefit from the aid and companionship of a caregiver, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors.

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, as needed.

Have any more questions? Want to talk over any concerns you might have about bringing up driving with your loved one? Curious about what a personalized care plan for your relative might look like? Don’t hesitate to reach out today to keep the conversation going.