Driving is something that is associated with independence for a great many people, and the idea of losing the freedom that comes with being able to get around town independently can be daunting, scary, and saddening for seniors.
Being able to drive around means that seniors can take themselves to their appointments, go on enjoyable outings whenever they want, visit friends and family without a great deal of fuss, and really just navigate their time without having to consult with other people about how to get where they want to go.
With all of the changes that take place for seniors in older age, many individuals feel as though they are slowly losing aspects of their independence and self-sufficiency but by bit, and the notion of not being able to drive anymore can come as a devastating blow. For this reason, many seniors want to keep driving as long as possible, even if they are noticing that driving is becoming more challenging.
For family members, friends, and caregivers of seniors, it can be challenging to determine when the time has come for them to stop driving and how best to navigate the discussions and arrangements that must follow when that point has been reached.
Why Growing Older Can Impact Driving
The truth is that many seniors can be still be very safe and capable drivers well into their 80s and 90s, and age alone is not a determinate of someone’s capability as a safe driver. It is also true, however, that there are a great many features of seniors’ lives that can culminate to make driving more challenging for them and, therefore, less safe.
First of all, various health conditions, whether they be mental or physical in nature, can impede driving ability, including (but not limited to):
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Anxiety Disorders
- Visual Impairment
- Hearing Impairment
Having conversations with healthcare professionals about the nature of any conditions that seniors might have, as well as how they might come into play to impact driving ability, can be important when considering safety and risk factors.
Another important element to discuss with healthcare professionals is the impact that various drugs can have upon seniors’ ability to drive, whether it be one medication on its own or the interaction that takes place between various medications taken in combination. The side-effects of drugs can often involve symptoms such as vision changes, drowsiness, mental fog, and twitches or tremors that can make driving a more dangerous activity for seniors than it once was. Making sure that you understand the impact that drugs have upon factors relevant to driving and safety is important for protecting both seniors and other drivers on the road.
Watching Driving Behaviour for Changes
If a seniors’ driving behaviour remains consistent with how it has been in the past and there are no changes in a negative or dangerous direction, they likely have more time before they need to step away from the wheel. On the other hand though, if you or other people in a senior’s life begin to notice that their driving is changing for the worse, it is likely time to have a conversation about giving up the keys. The following are some things that can indicate troubles with driving:
- Damage to the car
- Slow reaction to changes on the road
- Seeming not to be aware of signs, pedestrians, obstacles, or cyclists
- Increase in tickets
Basically, if it becomes uncomfortable to be in the car because it seems as though the driving is putting anyone at risk, it is time to have a conversation.
Having a Conversation
These conversations can be challenging for everyone involved, because seniors don’t often want to admit their difficulty nor give up their keys, and family members and friends don’t want to be the ones taking away some of the freedom that they know to be valuable to the seniors in their lives. These discussions are, however, important and can be made a little easier with some strategies and advanced planning.
First of all, it is important to go into a conversation about driving with realistic expectations about the outcome. Expecting that one brief conversation will be enough to convince seniors to give up their keys and stop driving all together is somewhat unrealistic. Resolution of issues and concerns related to seniors and driving will probably take multiple discussions, a fair amount of back-and-forth, and a period of transition.
The way you approach the subject can make a big difference in how seniors receive and take in what you are saying. Rather than telling seniors that you have decided they need to stop driving, framing the discussion as a dialogue in which you are open and willing to hear their opinion and work to a resolution that suits everyone is a more respectful and probably more productive way to approach things.
Another hugely important aspect of these conversations is that you have to be able to offer ideas and options about alternatives to driving. Simply suggesting that seniors stop driving themselves around without providing them with any idea of how they will get around moving forward will just make them feel stressed and even less willing to forfeit their place behind the wheel. Come prepared with some options in mind about things like public transit, carpooling, home care providers such as Retire-At-Home that can help get them from place to place, or say that you will make yourself available to get them where they need to go.
Ways to Make Not Driving a Little Easier
Among the primary concerns that many seniors have about stopping driving is that they will be left out and distanced from the things and activities that are enriching in their lives. It is important to reassure seniors that you will accommodate them when you can and that the fact that they aren’t driving anymore won’t mean that they can’t engage in enjoyable and fulfilling activities any more.
- Make sure they know about some interesting and enjoyable places they can walk to or get to easily without a car
- Offer to give them a ride to events and activities when you can
- Pick them up and bring them to events and outings with family and friends
- Take them on public transit to help them figure out the system and get comfortable with their options
- Provide them with a list of people and services they can call when they need a ride somewhere
- Let others know that they aren’t driving anymore so people know to accommodate them when possible
Losing something that feels so deeply connected to a sense of independence can be deeply challenging for seniors, so it is important to recognize and be respectful of the emotional elements that are involved in having seniors stop driving. Having the conversations and encouraging seniors to step away from the wheel when the time comes is important for safety and wellbeing, but always make sure to consider how these changes impact seniors’ lives overall and how best to ease them into the changes.