Did Mom or Dad hit a light pole?

by MichelleR on October 10, 2012

Do you remember how excited you were to get your driver’s license for the first time? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that one of the reasons you were so excited is because a driver’s license meant you had a little more freedom! Imagine decades of freedom and independence all of a sudden snatched from you; what kind of mental state do you think you would be in? For many elderly drivers, getting their driver’s license revoked may leave a high potential to cause depression or feelings of isolation. This is an issue that eventually surfaces with most families and can be a very touchy subject. How the topic is brought up can make all the difference in how it is received by your elderly loved one. After all, it does need to be addressed given that drivers over age 80 are most likely to be involved in fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on the elderly and driving statistics. Following are some helpful tips that might make it easier to bring up the fact that maybe it’s time to think about not driving anymore.
Keeping in mind the feelings of your loved one, it is probably best to have several short conversations that focus on their health and safety, instead of one long intense conversation that is centered on you trying to convince your loved one that this is the best situation for them right now. When there are several short conversations this creates open lines of communication that are calm and non-threatening. Home Instead Senior Care offers a booklet titled “The 40/70 Rule: A guide to conversation starters for Boomers and their senior loved ones” and listed below are some tips mentioned.
1. Get started- It’s time to start observing and gathering information carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t reach a conclusion from a single observation and decide on the best solution until you have gathered information with an open mind and talked with your parents or loved one.
For example: Go for a drive with your parent to see how well they do on the road. Watch for sudden stops, errors, missed turns and general slowing of response times. If there is noticeable decreased reaction time, find out if they are taking any medications that might interfere with thought processes
2. Talk it out- Approach your parents with a conversation. Discuss what you’ve observed and ask your parents what they think is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask what they think would be good solutions. If your parents don’t recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case.
For example, if they do not recognize a problem you can mention the abrupt stop she made because she thought she saw someone about to cross the street and in reality there was no one crossing the street. This would be a great time to ask when they last had a vision check-up and assessment.
3. Sooner is best- Talk sooner rather than later when a crisis has occurred. If you know your loved one has poor eyesight or has trouble driving at night, begin to address those issues before a problem arises. Driver license renewal time is an ideal time to talk about this subject; go with them to reassure yourself they did pass all tests. Again, emphasize that your concern is with other drivers who might endanger your elderly parent.
4. Forget the baby talk- Remember you are talking to an adult, not a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will put older adults on the defensive and convey a lack of respect for them. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and think of how you would want to be addressed in the situation.
5. Maximize Independence- Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person. Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems.
For example: Suggest some limitations, like staying on the streets instead of having to get on the freeway, driving only in daylight hours, or to local destinations that they are familiar with.
6. Be aware of the whole situation- Don’t assume that a loved one is becoming ill because a certain aspect of their life has had a sudden drastic change. Take into consideration what factors may be involved in the changes you are noticing.
7. Ask for help- Many of the issues of aging can be solved by providing parents with the support they need to continue to maintain their independence.
Remember, start conversations early and focus on the positives of driving responsibly. Who should start these conversations? According to a Harvard/MIT survey, it was concluded that married drivers prefer to hear about driving concerns first from their spouses. Those living alone prefer to have these conversations with their doctor, their adult children or a close friend, in that order. Adults over the age of seventy-five allow their adult children to have more influence than younger seniors. Older drivers DO NOT want to have conversations with police officers on this subject. Would you? If all else fails, you still have options. Try an intervention, obtain assistance from your local Department of Motor Vehicles, or take away their car keys and/or the vehicle. When there are no easy options, you must take the difficult path. Saving lives is the goal; lives of your loved ones and others.

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