As your loved one is aging, it is important to support them in their quest to remain as independent as possible. One way in which older adults can maintain their mobility and independence is by continuing to drive to appointments, to run errands, or to visit family and friends. There may come a time, though, when the question of whether it is still safe for your loved one to keep driving arises.
Today, 1 in 6 drivers in the United States is over sixty-five, a significant increase from twenty or thirty years ago. Studies show that fatal crash rates increase for drivers over the age of seventy and are highest for those over the age of eighty-five. In addition to age-related challenges such as slower reflexes, many factors may hinder your loved one’s ability to drive safely.
- Vision Impairment: Good vision is imperative to safe driving. The deterioration of vision is unavoidable as we age, and older adults are more prone to cataracts and glaucoma. Your loved one should regularly see an eye doctor to ensure that their vision is good enough for driving.
- Hearing Impairment: Nearly one-third of seniors between sixty-five and seventy-four and half of those over seventy-five experience hearing loss. Often, hearing loss is gradual and unnoticeable to your loved one. A decline in hearing puts a driver at risk because they are less likely to hear horns, sirens, or other important driving sounds. Again, encourage them to have regular hearing tests.
- Medication: Certain medications, or combinations of drugs, may have side effects that can severely impact your loved one’s ability to drive safely. Be sure to keep a current list of medications and have frequent discussions with their physician to determine if taking them coupled with driving is safe.
- Certain Health Conditions: Health conditions, such as dementia, arthritis, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, can affect one’s ability to drive and make good judgment calls. After any new diagnosis, consult your loved one’s physician to understand how it may affect their driving.
If your loved one isn’t noticeably experiencing any of these risk factors, the following are signs that driving is becoming unsafe for them:
- Running stop signs or red lights
- Stopping at green lights or at intersections where there aren’t any stop signs
- Getting into frequent fender-benders or side-swiping other cars
- Getting lost or experiencing confusion about getting to a destination
- Forgetting to signal, not following speed limits, or having difficulty merging
- Experiencing road rage, anxiety, or stress surrounding driving
Starting the Discussion
Presenting your concerns to your loved one could potentially leave them feeling ambushed, defensive, and helpless. Before broaching the topic, consider the following tips to ensure that your loved one feels supported and that the decision to stop driving is mutually agreed upon:
- Ask Rather than Tell: Refrain from telling your loved one that they need to stop driving. Instead, ask them questions about their recent driving experiences, how they feel getting behind the wheel, and any challenges they’ve been noticing. Having an open discussion will hopefully help them to realize that it may be time to stop driving.
- Offer Alternatives: Your loved one will likely have concerns about how they will be able to get around without a license. Be prepared to offer alternatives such as public transportation, paid caregivers, local senior services, setting up rides with family and friends, rideshare services, and tapping into delivery services for groceries and other necessities.
- Be Prepared for Ongoing Discussions: Chances are that this issue won’t be resolved in one quick discussion. Your loved one is likely to present some push-back due to fears about losing their freedom or refusal to accept that their driving has become unsafe.
- Get Help: If your loved one is entirely resistant to having this conversation, enlist the help of a trusted family physician or friend. Your loved one may be more receptive if the information comes from multiple people or someone other than you.