Time For Them To Stop Driving? 6 Tips for Having “The Talk” With Seniors
When ability behind the wheel starts to diminish, there are ways to address the issue.
Anyone who drives enough years will likely someday face a harsh reality: For physical, emotional or cognitive reasons, they can no longer safely operate a 2-ton machine—whether cruising down an interstate highway or navigating bumper-to-bumper city traffic.
Driving means independence, and losing that—or even has facing significant restrictions after decades of driving—can be tough to accept. Giving up the keys, studies show, can even lead to cognitive decline and depression for older people. But first you have to talk about it.
A 2018 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that close to 83% of older drivers say they never talk with relatives or doctors about their ability to drive safely. And 15% of the families that do address this difficult subject don’t do it until after there’s been a traffic violation or a crash. Older drivers also have a higher risk of death and injury if they’re in a crash.
That’s why it’s important for families to know how to talk to senior family members about their driving abilities, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project.
From the Foundation, here are a few tips for broaching the topic.
Be proactive. Have a talk before problems or concerns arise, giving older drivers time to reflect and process. This may also empower your loved one to seek information and solutions independently, helping them make their own decisions.
Acknowledge emotions. Older drivers say they want acknowledgement of how difficult this topic can be, along with offers of emotional support.
Focus on facts. Senior drivers appreciate objective evidence to help them make decisions. Offer solid information—such as the kind learned in a driver refresher course they could take—or a doctor’s recommendation about a medical condition that might make driving exceptionally risky.
Suggest that the driver speak to a trusted doctor. Seniors often take advice from medical professionals more readily than from family members.
Avoid black-and-white, one-size-fits-all thinking. Don’t assume an older adult must give up all driving: There are solutions for those whose driving abilities have only slightly eroded. For instance, adaptive equipment—such as special hand controls that operate the accelerator, brake and steering systems—may improve a driver’s abilities. Or, if a senior takes medication in the afternoon that could cause drowsiness, they may be able to drive only in the mornings and on local roads, or during daylight hours only.
Respect their desire to make decisions. Older adults want to consider input from people they trust, but also to keep control over their decisions. Consider a collaborative approach in which you empower your relative to make informed rather than forced decisions. With an open conversation, you can help your loved one maintain driving privileges for as long as possible.
Remember, as we tell our teenagers who are learning to drive: That license is not a right but a privilege.
Poll: Facing the reality of no longer being able to drive.