Often, the reversed responsibility of making decisions for a senior loved one can cause stress and frustration even when it is in their best interest. Ultimately, the decision to retire from driving must be made with the safety and well-being of the older person at the forefront.
Much like the inevitability of aging, there will be a time when driving is not the safest option for the elderly. If you have concerns about your parent or loved one, you can use these tips to help you and your loved one determine if being behind the wheel of a car is still the best thing for them.
How to be Aware of a Loved One’s Driving Readiness
This article highlights ways we can be aware, spot signs, and successfully help loved ones transition away from driving safely and compassionately.
Ride in the Car with Them
Taking time to ride in the car with elderly relatives may seem tedious. As people age, their relatives often drive them places when together to be courteous, even though the elderly person frequently drives themselves when alone. The simple act of trading off driving duties for errands or grocery runs allows us to be fully aware of how our loved ones are doing physically and to see any driving tendencies that need to be addressed.
Frequently riding in the car with elderly relatives also allows loved ones to begin the conversation about reducing and eventually eliminating driving before it becomes a safety concern. If you are not in the vicinity to frequently ride in the car with elderly loved ones, and even if you are near, there are a host of resources that can help determine driver fitness and if it is time to consider retiring from driving.
Refer to Official Guidance
Most senior or driving-focused sites and organizations like AARP, Oregon DMV, and AAA have resources to help determine driver fitness. In this article, we aim to distill some of this information and offer links to reputable sources. Whether from the perspective of the driver themselves or a loved one, these resources can help take the emotion out of the decision to stop driving by offering objective evaluations and warning signs for when a person should no longer drive.
One example is The Fitness-to-Drive Screening Measure from the University of Florida which asks a range of questions from personal health to driver history and makes recommendations at the end of the questionnaire. The questionnaire even has a version for elderly Canadian drivers! Although the results of the screening measure may not always reflect the nuances of your situation, the availability of data can help keep loved ones, health professionals, and friends in the loop and aware of what they can do to help older drivers remain safe and proactive.
Another helpful example is the AAA self-rating tool for drivers 65 years and older. This helpful form asks 15 short questions and has respondents sum the assigned values. The resultant values recommend how the driver should move forward safely given their circumstances. The recommendations range from exercise to additional training tailored to the elderly to help them continue to succeed as drivers.
While the ideal situation is for the driver to complete the self-examination form themselves, in our experience, it may be difficult to get a parent or loved one to take a self-assessment when there is a penalty for honesty. The best course of action is to ask leading questions to get as much information as possible, even when they are not ready to agree to stop driving.
However, as a caring and compassionate loved one, the goal should never be to coax information from elderly loved ones. This can leave younger relatives in an apparent catch-22 position when broaching whether their loved one should continue driving. On one hand, the elderly relative’s safety must be protected, and on the other, tricking information out of them could lead to distrust and defiance.
Therefore, remain candid with loved ones by clearly communicating concerns and offering resources like those in this article to address at their own pace.
With this, we know that every situation is unique. Suppose you believe your loved one is in immediate danger to themselves or others. In that case, it may be necessary to temporarily take the keys and consult external experts depending on the situation, whether it is from a medical professional or your local DMV.
Keep a Checklist of Driving Requirements
The CDC offers a comprehensive PDF checklist called MyMobility Plan that helps seniors and loved ones keep track of important aspects of personal, communal, and home factors that can affect one’s ability to drive and live well.
Examples include health check-ups, eye exams, and training resources. We recommend you keep a personalized checklist that helps you and your loved ones be aware of specific actions to be done so that they can continue to drive well.
It is important to create plans with your loved one before it becomes necessary to take the keys. Communicating at regular intervals (quarterly/annually) allows you to know what they would like to be done while they are of a clear mind.
Keep Track of Ailments
There are a multitude of issues that can lead a person not to be able to drive anymore. Sometimes, these can go undetected and an older adult may be unaware of their challenges. This makes it necessary for relatives and those who care for an elderly person to track what may make driving difficult for them.
Cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration are common issues that can affect your relative’s ability to drive. Setting up an appointment with your relative’s optometrist or ophthalmologist can help identify limitations, concerns, and vision problems.
Often, as physical ability declines, so too does the capacity to drive. If your relative has physical limitations, making sure they are still comfortable and able behind the wheel is important. If they have decreased in height, moving the seat forward and upward will give them better vision and control.
Cognitive deficits in older adults can impact driving safety in various ways. Slower cognitive processing can lead to delayed reactions to unexpected events on the road. Difficulty in multitasking can make it challenging to manage activities like signaling, turning, and keeping track of other vehicles. Short-term memory issues cause problems such as forgetting directions or missing exits. Impaired spatial skills can affect the ability to judge distances, making tasks like lane changing or merging problematic. Poor decision-making skills and slower visual processing can result in risky behaviors and difficulty recognizing road signs and conditions quickly. These factors can compromise not only the safety of the older driver but also that of others on the road.
Certain medications your loved one takes may induce drowsiness or slow their reaction time. If your relative takes several medications, make sure their doctor knows each one. This will help to reduce side effects or conflict with each other. Your relative’s physician can advise your loved one of any side effects that each drug causes.
Many senior adults do not do enough exercise to remain physically fit enough to drive. If your relative does not exercise enough to remain fit enough to drive, it may be necessary to encourage an exercise routine.
What To Do When No Longer Driving?
Once an elderly relative has stopped driving for good, there are still several resources available that can be used to support them so that they continue to feel independent. One example is Ride in Sight, a senior-focused ride service that provides transportation for seniors in cities around the country, including Portland.
Helping relatives automate certain activities, such as the delivery of prescriptions and groceries, could minimize the need for car travel.
At Select Home Care Portland, we offer transportation for clients to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or the movie theater, to name a few.
Our team helps people remain in their homes while taking care of what they need to continue to live well.