Signs Your Aging Parent is an Unsafe Driver
For six months, I had a sweet, 88 year old man call my company every 2-3 weeks, asking different questions about our senior transportation service. He would tell me he was planning to have his wife stop driving soon, so he was gathering information. Sadly, one day he called to book a ride…because his wife drove into a brick wall in their apartment complex, totaling the car and destroying the wall. Thankfully, aside from some bruises and minor broken bones, no one was seriously hurt, but they had quite a scare.
No one wants to have the discussion with their aging parents about their ability to drive. Driving signifies independence. Driving is something they have probably done since their teens. It also is one of the most dangerous things your aging parent can do in a day, if they are experiencing physical or cognitive decline.
While seniors don’t cause more accidents than teens or other drivers, accidents involving elderly drivers account for a higher rate of serious injury or fatality. This has more to do with pre-existing health conditions or inability to recover, but it is very important to note.
So when do you know it’s time to talk to your aging parents about their driving?
1. Has there been a change in health?
2. Do they have trouble with reflexes?
3. Are they acting forgetful or distracted?
4. Are they experiencing hearing loss?
5. Have you noticed increased anxiety or anger in the car?
6. Have they been in a serious accident, near miss or fender bender?
If so, you may want to start the conversation with your aging parent. I have worked with many families as they were beginning the conversation with their parents. The best ways to embark on the conversation are to start the discussions early and go into the conversations prepared.
Don’t walk in and tell them, “I don’t feel comfortable with you driving anymore. You need to stop.” Instead, research all of the transportation and service options that are available to them in their area and provide them with the resources. The number one fear seniors have about giving up the keys is losing their independence, so show them that there are several options for them to maintain their lifestyle.
They’ll be far more receptive to change if you provide transportation solutions. Knowing that they can still go to lunch with their friends or their weekly drawing group goes a long way in showing them that this isn’t about taking something away from their lives, but about making it safer and easier to manage. It may even help to schedule a ride or two with a service you enlist so that they can see how easy it is to use.
So, what are the alternatives to driving for aging seniors?
– Every state has a public transportation system for the elderly or disabled as part of the American with Disabilities Act. Research what is available in your area and help them with the application process. Many programs take several weeks to complete the application process, so the earlier you start, the better.
– Senior Centers usually have transportation shuttles so your parents can get to their local center and participate in classes or meals to keep them active and enjoy the company of others during the day.
– Some cities have volunteer driver programs, where people in the community provide low cost or free transportation for seniors. These are more difficult to find and depending on volunteer participation, may be unreliable, so you will need back up. They may not be viable for critical medical appointments, but are a great option for grocery trips or other errands.
– Neighbors, church members or friends can also be a great resource. Perhaps they are free to give your parents a ride or are looking for a way to earn extra money. They may know of someone who can provide reliable transportation, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your network.
– There has been an influx of ride sharing services that may work for your parents if they are tech savvy or if you are willing to book their rides for them. This is great for on-demand transportation, particularly if they aren’t comfortable using a taxi. My only caution is to be aware that there have been several lawsuits over driver background checks, so if your parent suffers from dementia or cognitive decline, this may not be a good resource for them.
I have found that the best transportation solution for aging seniors is to have several options set up. This ensures that they won’t be left without a ride. While the transportation options aren’t perfect, having several services for their various activities shows them that they don’t need to quit their social activities when they quit driving. It will go a long way in easing them into their new life stage.
Unfortunately, your aging parent will likely always miss driving. We had clients who hadn’t driven for 10 years who still commented on how much they still missed driving. One client said that while she was happy with her transportation options, she still missed the freedom of going out for a taco if she felt like having a taco, without having to arrange a ride.
Have you had the discussion with your parents? What made them agree to hand over the keys?
If you are not sure how to have the driving conversation, or are unsure whether your aging parent is a safe driver, consider picking up my eBook Taking the Keys Away from Elderly Parents: How to Help Your Parents Give Up Driving and Set Them Up for Success“. I have held several workshops in Los Angeles sharing how to handle this important, yet uncomfortable discussion. I’m finally sharing my workshop information with everyone, including a lot of bonus information.