BY DAVID PIEPLOW – Contributing Writer
As an adult child, there may come a time when you realize that your older loved one simply cannot safely or confidently drive an automobile. They may pose a serious danger to themselves and others when they get behind the wheel. What do you do? What should you say?
First, discover the obvious sign that it is time to have that “difficult driving discussion” with your senior parent. According to AARP, there are ten signs it’s time to limit or stop driving:
Almost crashing, with frequent close calls. Getting scrapes or dents on the car, garage, or mailbox. Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct traffic lane. Having trouble following traffic signals, road signs, or pavement markers. Driving too slow or too fast for road conditions.
Easily distracted or having difficulty concentrating. Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain. Decrease in confidence while driving. Receiving multiple traffic tickets or warnings from police officers. Getting lost, especially in familiar locations.
That last sign really hit home about three years before my mother died.
One day I received a phone call from Mom, who lived outside of Tampa Florida… “David, I went to the doctor today and had a complete physical.”
“Great! How did it go Mom?”
“I was early for my appointment, I love my new doctor, and everything is as good as it can be for an eighty-six year old woman. But when I got back to the car, I didn’t know where I was and how to get back home. So I drove all around Sun City Center for about two hours until I found the entrance to Freedom Plaza, my parking space, and finally back home. I don’t know what to do. I was so embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anybody but you. It was all pretty scary.”
“Mom, I’m going to fly down this weekend and we’ll talk about it, Ok?
That night I purchased a one-way ticket to Tampa, with the idea that I would, most likely, drive her car home to St. Louis.I used the time flying down to Florida to do a little research about what I could possibly say to my mother to help her decide to stop driving. One great article from USA Today quoted Rhonda Shah, AAA Traffic Safety Manager. “Many people feel hurt or defensive when a well-intentioned loved one tries to limit or stop their driving. Resistance can come full force. The very best thing to do during these situations is to remain open, calm, and focused on being productive. In other words, no matter how frustrating it is, focus on the big picture and think about how difficult it can be for our parents to accept this. Remember the patience they showed us while trying to teach us to drive.”
Almost every article I read said virtually the same thing. Kyle Rakow, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety said, “Remember that limiting or stopping driving is a complex and emotionally charged discussion. Older drivers have a lifetime of driving experience behind them and deeply value their independence and mobility that driving provides. Look for the warning signs, observe, and listen to your loved one.”
Mark Hornbeck, spokesperson for AARP Michigan added, “Driving skill is more related to health than it is to age. There’s no magic age at which everyone needs to give up their keys. It is a health-related issue.”
Unfortunately for all of us, it was all about her health; the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.
My conversation with Mom was simple. I asked questions. “What do you want to do, Mom? Do you feel safe when you drive? Do you feel comfortable or nervous getting into the car? What are some of the options to driving? In what ways can you still have your freedom to do all of your outside activities you want to do?”
It was a productive conversation which ended peacefully with my Mother handing me the title and keys to her car. During our time together, she saw for herself that she could no longer drive an automobile of any kind, including a golf cart. It was a sad time but a necessary time for the both of us.
My story will be different from your story. Yet, looking for the warning signs, observing your loved one’s driving, and listening to your senior parent should be everyone’s story as loving and caring adult children.
Remember, giving up the car keys can be a frightening and lonely prospect. Our parents steered us into the discipline of driving. We now owe our senior parents the same guidance through their driving challenges as they age.