Constructing a Game Plan

Experts believe that while any discussions on driving are likely to be emotional for family members as well, they should not be put off. Here are some suggestions on the process:

Be prepared to have multiple conversations.  Don’t look upon it as a one shot deal. Ongoing and candid conversations are recommended in order to establish a pattern of open dialogue and give the older adult time to consider the situation without the strain of necessarily changing behaviors immediately.

Start with appropriate conversation openers.  Rather than tell a parent that “you need to stop driving,” it is more effective to begin by talking about the importance of safety and health, other options that may be available to help them get around, the dangers of certain road situations, etc.

Use mishaps or near misses, self-regulation, or health changes as a lead in.  For example, praising a senior for choosing to limit her driving to day time or discussing how the taking of a new medication may make them sleepier or less alert should be considered.

Observe the senior at the wheel.  A conversation has far more meaning when the senior’s driving is experienced first hand. Seeing, for example, the senior become lost in familiar surroundings may be a sign of dementia and a reason in and of itself to get the senior to stop driving. Studies have shown that people are more willing to listen to those who have driven with them.

Investigate the alternatives to driving.  Many seniors will see the loss of driving as the loss of independence and a blow to their social network. To make any decision more palatable, it is important to see what other options exist. Home Care Partners and staff often provide our clients with transportation needs. Also, simple research will uncover whether there is a local supermarket which offers grocery delivery. Many local pharmacies may offer free delivery for the elderly. Is there a bus or train line nearby?

Discuss your concerns with a doctor.  It’s always easier to blame any decision on the doctor. A recommendation to stop driving that comes from the senior’s doctor usually carries more weight than when heard from the adult children. And, the doctor may corroborate this decision based on the current medication schedules.

If there is initial resistance, suggest that the older adult be tested for an assessment of their driving skills.  These tests are commonly administered by rehabilitation centers and hospitals. Or, the local registry of motor vehicles.

Be supportive.  Adult children need to understand that this is more than just the loss of their car, but a clear blow to their freedom and independence. The transition can be a difficult one.

What if all these steps fail to get the desired response? To be honest, many are at risk…Mom, Dad, and other passengers; as well as the general public…other drivers; pedestrians walking on the sidewalk or crossing the street. Experts say that if a high-risk driver refuses to stop driving, the family may have no choice but to sell or disable the car or take away the keys.

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