Many Americans find their ability to drive wherever they want to go is one of the most fundamental freedoms they enjoy. However, as people get older, their ability to operate a vehicle can diminish significantly, and they can become a hazard to themselves and other drivers and pedestrians. Getting an aging parent to give up their driving privileges can cause strife and upset. Making this transition to depending on other methods of transportation can be made easier with a few tips.
You must first do an assessment of your elderly parent’s abilities. Some elders are very conscientious about their driving skills well into their 80s. However, some may show signs of being unable to handle the many facets needed to drive safely. While driving with your parent, notice their comfort and habits behind the wheel. Do they sit at a level that allows them to see clearly all around the vehicle? Can they turn around comfortably to look while backing up? Are they aware of posted speed limits, turn-only lanes and general rules of the road? Can they get in and out of the car without difficulty? Can they adjust their seating and mirrors? Can they reach all needed equipment on the dashboard? If you notice the parent become confused or disoriented at any point during the driving period, make note of it. This reaction could mean that your parent can no longer drive safely and can be a hazard to other people on the road. Periodically inspect the outside of the car for any dents or scrapes that could indicate problems driving or parking the vehicle.
Signs of Mental Decline
Everyone’s memory slips a bit as they get older. The sheer amount of dates, events and numbers seems to build every year. However, when memory problems become noticeable or severe, it can signal Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia that may need medical treatment. These conditions can cause your parent to become disoriented at any moment. Small changes in normal routines can cause them to become unable to make decisions or carry out corrective actions. If your parent has a growing problem with memory, do a driving assessment and discuss the matter with his physician. Taking away the car keys may be the most caring thing you can do to protect your parent.
Visual acuity can fade as people age. Older people may have problems with cataracts, macular degeneration and a variety of other eye diseases. Make sure your elderly parent gets annual vision examinations. Be aware of any eye conditions that he or she may have. Be aware of falls or bruises that may indicate a change in vision. These signs can mean it is time to give up driving.
Hearing is another important faculty needed for safe driving. If the senior cannot hear car horns, ambulance sirens or the voices of people near the vehicle, they cannot drive safely. Though hearing aids have improved significantly over recent hears, these devices do not always provide enough amplification for driving needs.
Though you may not think that driving requires physical ability, certain movements are critical to safe operation of the vehicle. The driver must be able to get in and out of the vehicle easily. He must be able to reach and manipulate drive controls such as headlight, wipers, emergency brakes and defrosters. The driver must also be able to turn completely around in the seat in order to see behind the vehicle when backing up. If your parent has physical problems that interfere with any of these operations, it’s time to stop driving.
Another important issue to consider when deciding about driving ability is the type and number of medications that the senior takes on a daily basis. Many of these drugs have side effects that include dizziness, drowsiness or diminished ability to concentrate. In combination, many drugs can be particularly problematic. Read accompanying warning information that are generally given with medications to ensure that the driving ability of the senior is not being affected by the medications he or she must take.
Broaching the Subject
A frank talk with the senior about his or her driving ability may be met with defensiveness and denial. Though it is often difficult to take the leadership role when dealing with aging parents, the issue of driving is one of life and death. You do not want your parent or yourself responsible for the injuries of others on the road. Usually, you can expect the senior to gradually come to terms with the idea of giving up driving. Reassure them that you will be available to take them on errands. Get the help of other siblings or other family members to help with transportation. Discuss public transportation options and go with the elder as they become accustomed to using it. Make it a pleasant experience for the elder so that they associate it with positive feelings. Find out about transportation services in the area for the elderly. Many communities offer vans that take seniors to shopping venues for a small fee. Discuss your fears openly with the parent and make them understand how badly you would feel if an accident occurred. Tap into their sense of responsibility to others to prevent driving accidents. If necessary, enlist the help of your parent’s physician to recommend that he or she stop driving. Once the parent has agreed to give up the car keys, support them in their decision with a little more attention to their need for stimulation away from home.
The Nurses at Partners in Healthcare are available to talk with you about your transportation options or your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care. We are a senior care agency providing elder home care serves in the Orlando area, 407-788-9393.
Hank Charpentier, BSB, MBA, MA, Certified Senior Adviser