Caregivers: Should Your Senior Parent Be Driving?

Taking the keys away from your aging parent

From the time a teenager first learns to drive, the car and driver’s license are symbols of freedom and independence. It’s no wonder, then, that most seniors don’t want to give up their car or driver’s license as they age.

However, driving can become dangerous for many older individuals: reflex times increase, movements are not as nimble as they used to be, and vision (especially at night) may be poor, which all increases the risk of an accident.

That’s not to say all seniors should turn in their license at the door of the retirement community, or even stop driving while still living in their own house. It means that adult children or caregivers of older individuals should take a close look at the seniors in their care and determine if their driving habits warrant some change in their lifestyle.

Driving Is Not “All or Nothing”
Even if a caregiver does notice issues with a senior’s driving, that doesn’t mean they are destined to a life of public transportation or asking for rides. Perhaps a senior can see well during the day, their reflexes are up to speed, and they have no lack in decision making skills. Maybe that person should only drive during the day, but not at night. That’s an easy lifestyle change to make.

Other seniors may be capable of driving around town, on roads with speed limits under 45, but no longer have the skills or agility to merge onto highway or freeway traffic. Again, depending on where the senior lives, those changes can be easily accommodated.

What If An Aging Parent Shouldn’t Drive?
Sometimes, a senior will recognize it’s time to stop driving. Maybe they just aren’t comfortable behind the wheel anymore, and voluntarily turns in their keys.

But in some cases, the senior is unwilling to admit they are a hazard to themselves and others on the road, or just doesn’t see it.

Caregivers should begin the process with a conversation. Offer solutions to the problem, rather than focusing on the drawbacks. For instance, if giving up the car and license also involves a move to a retirement community, emphasize the free shuttles and private transportation that is available virtually around the clock, as well as day trips the senior may like to visit, but are out of the range of where they are willing to drive right now.

If you’ll be providing most of the transportation, determine a schedule and approach trips with an attitude that getting together will be fun. No matter how you feel, don’t make it sound like a burden, adding guilt to a difficult situation.

If spending an afternoon driving your mother across town to doctor’s appointments sounds even more torturous than having all those appointments for yourself, see if a sibling or neighbor can take on some of the burden, or if your mom would like (and can afford) a car service. Some in-home caregivers include running errands and transportation to doctors’ appointments as part of their services, too.

“My Aging Parent Won’t Listen: Now What?”
There is always the possibility that no matter what you say, an aging parent insists on driving. While it may be tempting to steal their license and slash their tires, we advise against it. You know you’ll be the one calling the tow truck to get to the auto parts store for new tires, anyway.

The Department of Motor Vehicles in most states offers a senior driving test. The test is the same as the test given to anyone applying for a driver’s license for the first time. In some states, like California, this test can be recommended, or even mandated, by a physician, police officer, or a friend or relative concerned about a senior’s driving ability. If the senior doesn’t pass the test, the driver’s license is revoked. This helps caregivers turn the DMV in to the “bad guy” in this difficult situation, and leaves no room for debate on whether or not a senior can drive any more. If you’re unsure about an aging parent’s driving ability, or if you know they shouldn’t be driving but they refuse to give up the privilege, this test could be the answer.

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