Losing the keys for many older adults means a loss of independence. I have always been an advocate of older adults’ right to make their own bad decisions, provided they are mentally competent, however; this week a series of events made me change my mind on one important issue: driving.
I attended an EPWNG panel on Navigating the Odyssey of Caring for Aging and Sick Loved Ones and Erin Marcus from Caring Transitions made an important point. Allowing our loved ones to continue driving unsafely on the road puts others at risk. This could mean kids playing in the park, families at a street festival, or another young driver on the road. What’s worse – possibly offending your mother or father, or the unthinkable happening on the road?
The conversation is a difficult one and I’ve listed some ideas for broaching the topic below:
Instead of saying, “You have to stop driving! You’re going to hurt someone!” try “How’s your driving going?” It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s best not to try and convince a loved one that they need to give up the keys. A combative approach can make a person defensive or shut down. Rather, you want to help loved ones draw their own conclusions by looking at their own driving behavior. Talking about a recent ticket or a minor accident can be a good way into the conversation. Even if you do make an executive decision about driving, it’s best to start by putting the ball in their court.
Instead of “Don’t worry, I can drive you everywhere” try “I know it will be hard to give up your independence.”When asked to give up the keys, older adults might protest and say they need to to go about their daily life. You might be tempted to offer solutions by insisting on driving or pointing out senior transportation in your area. However, it’s better to validate their feelings and honor their sense of freedom, whether your loved one is going to doctor’s appointments or simply to the movies or the store.
Instead of “You really need to give up the keys” try “What do you think you should do about your driving?”Again, by putting the ball in their court, it can help them draw their own conclusion.
Instead of “Let’s focus on the driving” try “What do you want to talk about?”While you don’t want to dodge the topic, sometimes reminiscing or discussing other age-related issues first can be a more natural transition into the driving conversation. When people feel they are being listened to and understood, they’re more open to making change. The reality is that coming to a conclusion about driving will likely take multiple conversations, and difficult topics might take warming up to.
Instead of having the conversation all alone, invite a third party
Sometimes hearing the advice from a professional, outside the family can help. Normative aging changes make reaction time slow even in the healthiest of individuals.
Always focus on alternatives and the positive of the situation. Giving up driving and all the responsibilities that come with having a car can be freeing – no car insurance, no parking, no parking tickets, and no need to give rides to grandkids all over town.
Need help talking to your family member about driving? Feel free to give us a call and we can point you in the right direction for local resources on dealing with this among other difficult topics.