Download as PDF
The decision to stop driving is one of the most difficult passages in an elderly individual's life because it represents a dramatic loss of freedom and independence. But when your loved one can no longer drive safely, you must take action.
As a caregiver, how do you know when it's time to intervene? Some warning signs of impairment include "near misses," citations for reckless driving or other traffic violations, loss of concentration, driving too slowly or too fast, and getting lost. Don't wait until your loved one threatens his or her own safety or that of others on the road. Bring up the subject before an accident or injury occurs.
Things to Consider
Age alone doesn't make a poor driver. However, memory, judgment, hearing, vision and physical mobility definitely do decline with age. Also, abilities can deteriorate suddenly and rapidly, so it is important to regularly monitor your loved one's skill level behind the wheel.
Take a test drive with your loved one. Does he or she have difficulty staying in the lane, making turns (especially left-hand ones) or remembering the route to familiar destinations? Does he or she exhibit slowed reaction time or a reluctance to pass other cars on the highway? Is driving erratic?
Broaching the Topic
When you do sit down to talk to your loved one about driving, choose a calm, quiet time and location. Don't expect an instant resolution. Multiple conversations may be needed.
Start slowly. Begin by asking, "How are you doing with your driving?" Ask what your loved one thinks should be done. Focus the conversation on your concern for the well-being of your loved one and other drivers. Be prepared to respond to likely objections.
Debbie Lee-Antonopoulous, a supervisor with InnovAge Home Care Denver, says, "Be gentle and caring. Validate your loved one's feelings before jumping in with solutions. Don't lecture, insult or humiliate your loved one." This is important, she notes, because the loved one is already feeling a loss of control over his or her life, which can be devastating.
If appropriate, consider making interim agreements, for example, that your loved one not drive at night or in bad weather, not drive on the highway, or not drive beyond a certain distance from home. You can help minimize problems during this stage by keeping your loved one's car well-maintained, including checking the tire pressure, changing the oil and keeping the gas tank full.
If necessary, solicit the help of a professional, such as a minister, care manager or attorney. A doctor may help by pointing out that the loved one's medical condition or medications are making it unsafe for him or her to drive. It also may be easier for your loved one to hear concerns from a trusted friend rather than a family member.
If your loved one refuses to surrender the car keys even though his or her driving presents a danger to self or others, extreme measures may be called for, including "borrowing" your loved one's car and not giving it back or filing a "dangerous driver" report with the Department of Motor Vehicles so that a vision and/or driving test is required in order for the individual's license to be renewed.
Investigate and tell your loved one about available transportation alternatives, such as public transit, nonprofit organizations that provide transportation services, taxi cab companies, friends, neighbors, family members or volunteers. Hospitals, senior centers and adult day centers sometimes offer free transportation to and from home for elderly persons. Make a list of these resources and keep it in a handy spot, such as near the phone.
Consider hiring a car service or setting up an account with a taxi company. It may be cheaper than the cost of maintaining your loved one's car. Whatever method(s) you and your loved one decide on, accompany him or her on a trip, so he or she becomes comfortable with the routine.
When the time comes to take away the car keys, be firm, but sensitive. Treat your loved one as an adult, with care and respect. Put yourself in his or her place. Remember the sense of liberation you felt when you first learned to drive. Recognize that giving up driving can cause genuine feelings of sadness and loss that must be worked through.