Discussing driving with an older adult
As we get older, our driving can be affected. Some seniors might not realize that their driving skills have changed over time. And letting go of the freedom to drive can be a scary idea for many. They may see it as a loss of independence or as insultingto their abilities. Having a plan in mind with clear, identifiable goals, and being willing to work with seniors to address their concerns can make the sensitive conversation go a little more smoothly.
Seniors and driving
Senior citizens are some of the safest drivers on the road, with decades of experience driving and the wisdom that comes with reacting to all sorts of other drivers. They’re less likely to drive recklessly or speed, and more seniors wear seat belts than other age groups.1 Still, aging does affect reaction time and motor function, and medications can alter cognition and physical functions as well.
Is it time to talk about driving?
There’s never a perfect time to have the conversation, but if the elder in your life has exhibited a dramatic or sudden change in driving skills or habits, this might be a sign that it’s time to talk about why their driving has changed.
Choose a time and place that is comfortable and free of distractions. Know ahead of time what you want to say and ask, but be open to hearing unexpected answers. Try not to have the conversation when emotions are running high, or when anyone is tired, hungry, confused, or frustrated.
Show evidence, not emotions
If you’re worried about how someone is driving, it’s best to discuss it. Many people fear the prospect of not being able to drive whenever they want. Remember, this is a facts-based argument, rather than an emotional plea. Approach the conversation with evidence that the other person’s driving behavior has changed: reports of accidents, tickets, or other erratic driving behavior. Present this evidence in a calm, non-judgmental manner.
Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and look at the situation from their perspective. The possibility of losing the independence that comes with driving can be tremendously difficult to process. They may react with confusion, anger, or hurt; these are all valid responses to this major life change. After all, many drivers have had this freedom since they were 16 years old, and losing driving privileges can seem like a step back.
Although it is important to have a plan for how to discuss driving, it’s also crucial to make sure you listen to the driver. Perhaps a new medication is having a temporary affect on the way they drive. Maybe their sleeping patterns have changed, and this is affecting their driving. Try not to assume the worst. There might be a simple way to address your concerns about driving without taking drastic measures.
Talk about a test
Some states have different driver’s license renewal procedures for senior citizens. This may include more frequent written or practical tests for driving. Several organizations offer practice exams for self-evaluation. For a more formal approach, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website has links to state-by-state professional evaluation services.
Offer viable alternatives
Losing independence and mobility are top concerns for seniors today. That’s why it’s important to make alternative forms of transportation a part of the conversation. Being able to maintain an active social life is good for physical and emotional health; feeling “trapped” in the home can lead to depression and withdrawal from other activities. Work with the person to brainstorm other ways to keep active, including offering to drive where possible, safe forms of public transportation, or using volunteer or paid transportation services. Changes in driving ability don’t need to limit a person’s ability to get around.
Arranging for and conducting a formal driving assessment
Curtailing unsafe driving habits
Factors that contribute to unsafe driving
Getting help with an unsafe driver
Modifying driving habits of older adults
Physically limiting vehicle access for unsafe drivers
Reviewing driving regulations and legal risks
Unsafe driving warning signs
1Senior Driver Safety & Mobility. AAA Exchange.