Editor’s Note: Original post from March 25, 2011, has been completely updated and revised.
Remember how excited you were when you first got your driver’s license?
It may have seemed like a milestone… your first real taste of independence. Is it any wonder as people age they’re often reluctant to give it up?
Lisa became concerned about her mother’s driving.
While her mother loved to drive it eventually became unsafe. Lisa periodically would ride with her mother. And when Lisa no longer felt it was safe, she gently talked to her mother.
Lisa offered her services as chauffeur. She was amazed when her mother seemed relieved to give up her driving.
When it’s time to have the driving talk with an elderly relative it can be hard.
It may not be what you signed up for when you agreed to assume their elder care.
Have you ever complained about older people on the road? Maybe they…
- Drive too slowly or
- Drive big cars and can barely see over the steering wheel or
- Pull out into traffic when it’s not safe.
You may fear an accident because they can’t see other cars or their reactions are too slow.
It may be time you deal with your parent’s unsuitability to drive. Maybe he’s too old or too ill. And responsible elder care involves doing some things that may seem unpleasant.
What can you do when your parent should not be driving?
- Check your parent’s driving skills.
- Have your parent’s eyes checked regularly.
- Talk to your parent.
- Get your family to support you and talk to your parent.
- Consider talking to your parent’s doctor.
1. Check your parent’s driving skills.
The easiest way to check your parent’s driving is to go for a ride with him or her.
Unlike drivers’ education, you’re not teaching them to drive well.
What are you doing?
You’re looking for signs of loss or reduction of their skills and reflexes. These can include missing a stop sign, not following traffic signals or patterns or even seeming nervous or jittery while driving.
2. Have your parent’s eyes checked regularly.
Sometimes older people have vision problems but don’t want to admit it or don’t realize they have a problem. They may avoid seeing an eye doctor.
You may need to schedule an appointment for your elderly parent. Reassure him or her that seeing the eye doctor does not mean an automatic loss of a driver’s license. A new pair of glasses may be the solution.
Routine eye appointments should be part of elder care.
On the bright side, the doctor may be able to correct a vision problem, safely allowing your parent to drive.
3. Talk to your parent.
Ask your parent about driving. Gently ask if he or she still feels comfortable driving.
You might offer to chauffeur him or her for errands.
If you get a suspicious look or an argumentative tone, don’t get into an argument or shouting match. You are talking about their independence.
Remember losing your independence is not easy at any age. Losing a driver’s license may also remind your parent of his or her own mortality.
How would you feel if someone tried to take away your driver’s license?
You want to find out how they feel about driving. You may be surprised to find she doesn’t want to drive as much. Or maybe she’s glad for the company on errands.
And you may be pleasantly surprised to find out she’s have been waiting for someone to ask.
4. Get your family to support you and talk to your parent.
Sometimes one family member has more authority in the eyes of an older person.
It may be the oldest child, or perhaps a professional. Having this talk alone is not fun, and can be very stressful. When the entire family agrees it’s often easier for the family to approach the aging parent together.
5. Consider talking to your parent’s doctor.
Your parent’s doctor cannot discuss confidential information with you.
However, you may be able to ask him or her to discuss driving and safety of driving at your parent’s next exam. If your parent hasn’t been listening to your concerns, maybe he or she will listen to the doctor.
And in some states the doctor must report patients to the Department of Motor Vehicles if the doctor is aware the patient is not safe to drive.
Leaving an unsafe driver on the road is not a good option.
You should find a way to keep them off the road so your parent does not hurt himself or herself—or anyone else.
Wouldn’t you feel awful if your parent was in an accident and an innocent person was hurt?
When safety is at stake, you may have to deal with your parents’ inability to drive safely.
Enlist all the help and support you can get—if and when you need to make this decision.
How have you handled this situation? Share in the comments.
To your Happy & Healthy Caregiving,
Ina Gilmore MD
Founder, Caregiving With Purpose
Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador
P.S. For additional tips and your free copy of A HEART PLAN, sign up for our newsletter!