Most of us earned our driver’s licenses as teenagers and can remember this exciting rite of passage. It represented so much: adulthood, freedom, independence — and the fact is, a license means that to anyone, at any age. We live in a culture that puts a premium on getting from point A to B quickly and independently, which can make losing one’s ability to drive a tough thing to accept. This can be especially so for seniors, who have probably spent many decades behind the wheel.
So, how do you know when it’s time for your senior loved one to quit driving and leave it to someone else? What resources in the way of elder care services might be available to you to help with that transition?
When Should Someone Else Take the Wheel?
As seniors age, it’s important to be mindful of physical and/or mental changes that might affect their ability to get behind the wheel. If your loved one is:
- Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
- Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
- Responding more slowly to unexpected situations or confusing the gas and the brake pedals
- Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from law enforcement officers
- Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain
- Finding new dents and scratches on their car
- Taking multiple medications that can possibly affect alertness
. . .these could all be signs that it might be time for a senior to retire to the passenger seat.
Talking with Your Loved One
Sometimes, seniors are the first to recognize their diminished capacity to drive and take themselves off the road willingly. They may even be relieved to do so, knowing they no longer have to worry about the responsibilities that come with driving. But just as often, older drivers can be reluctant to let go of the keys because it feels very much like giving up their independence. If you’re sure it is time for your loved one to relinquish their license, it’s important to speak with them as soon as possible about it, for their own safety as much as for everyone else’s. Here are some things that can help:
- Be prepared. Identify their transportation needs and learn about local elder care services that may be able to help
- Stay supportive and recognize the importance of a driver’s license to your loved one. Understand they may become defensive, angry, hurt, or withdrawn
- Stick to the issue and discuss driving skills, not her age
- Focus on safety and maintaining independence. Be clear that the goal is to continue her favorite activities while staying safe. Explore other transportation options ahead of time.
The most important thing to remember is that as hard as this conversation may be, safety is paramount and cannot be bypassed.
How Outside Resources Can Help
If there is a senior loved one in your life who isn’t as steady behind the wheel as they should be, there are options. Many communities and organizations, like AARP, offer safe driver refresher courses for seniors. You might consider speaking to your doctor about options that might either improve driving abilities or help your loved one understand that driving may no longer be wise. At Senior Care Authority, we are the exclusive provider of Beyond Driving with Dignity, an enhanced self-assessment for older drivers. This program, founded by Matt Gurwell, is available across the country.
It’s important to remember that during this often challenging transition from driver to passenger seat, you don’t have to go it alone.
Reach out to Senior Care Authority today to find out more about how you can help an elderly loved one stay safe on the road.