When is it time to hit the brakes?

Written by Megan Bruckschen, Felician Village at Home Manager

For many older adults, driving a vehicle provides a level of independence. Having the conversation about when to give up driving with a loved one or making that decision yourself can be very difficult.  How do you know when the time is right?

Turning sixteen is a rite of passage in the United States, as most states allow children who turn that age to have some form of a driver’s license. However, age should not be the only factor when determining when to stop driving. That decision is much more difficult as it is related to the ability of the driver based on their physical and cognitive skills, as well as any medical conditions and medication usage. First step is observing the driving of the person you are concerned about. If you are worried about your own driving skills, invite a loved one to ride along with you. Rather than relying on memory to track any issues, write them down. Patterns will start to become obvious.

According to AARP there are many of warning signs of unsafe driving for older adults, including:

  • Delayed response to unexpected situations
  • Become easily distracted while driving
  • Decrease in confidence while driving
  • Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic
  • Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
  • Getting scrapes or dents on car, garage or mailbox
  • Having frequent close calls
  • Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions

You’ve ridden along or maybe followed behind a loved one driving and have some concerns, now what? This conversation can be one of the most difficult to have with an older loved one, but not if you come prepared. Here are some tips to start the conversation:

Start the conversation early – Waiting until an accident happens or a medical issue causes a problem puts both your loved one and others at risk. When you begin noticing small warning signs, begin the conversation. It might not be necessary to have the person stop driving altogether, but limit driving to certain hours of the day or during inclement weather conditions. This is a starting point for them to realize that relinquishing their driving abilities doesn’t have to alter their lives. By planning for other transportation options, they can continue to get to their appointments and still enjoy their social life.

Family communication – It is very important that all family members be on the same page. It will be difficult to even have the conversation, let alone make a change to your loved one’s driving capabilities if opinions on the subject differ between siblings or close family members. The detailed notes you take are important to having the conversation with family members who may be hesitant to the change. Family dynamics could help or hinder the progress on this conversation. If family meetings about other sensitive topics are productive, look at hosting the conversation that way. If not, choose a trusted family member or friend to have a one-on-one conversation with the driver.

Have empathy and be understanding – Giving up driving can be a pivotal moment in a person’s life. There can be an overwhelming amount of change at this time in their life in many areas, and taking away driving can be met with frustration, denial, hostility or anger. Empathizing with your loved one that the decision is difficult is important. Be sure that your words emphasize that you want to make sure they are safe, not that you want to take away their independence.

Provide transportation options – A lack of transportation options can lead to social isolation. Come prepared to the discussion with a plan on how your loved one can get where they need and want to be. It is important that there is a reliable, safe plan not just for essential appointments (medical appointments, pharmacy, bank, groceries, etc.) but also a plan for social outings. Encourage the plan to be diverse and not only include older adults. Many communities offer transportation options and referrals specifically for older adults. Felician Village on the Go is a new transportation option available to Felician Village at Home members and Gardens residents.

Visit the DMV – In some instances your loved one may be very stubborn and unwilling to listen to your conversations about their driving. The Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles has multiple resources on their website (https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/dmv/license-drvs/mdcl-cncrns/olderdrivers.aspx) including information on retesting, that can aid you if you believe that they absolutely should not be driving anymore.

Planning for the next stages in life beyond financial and healthcare planning are very important. Ensuring you are including conversations about mobility and the ability to get around can help your loved one live the life they desire.

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