By Monte Schwartz, Transition Specialist, LivWell Seniors, LLC
“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, or ethnic background is that we all believe we are above-average drivers.” — Dave Barry.
We can be pretty emphatic and judgmental about it while we’re on the road! I’ve seen different personalities come out of people while driving (think Jekyll and Hyde).
Humor aside, a couple of other points come to mind when discussing driving: freedom and worry. Who among us didn’t associate getting to drive as a teenager with freedom, and which parents didn’t associate the giving of car keys to a new teen driver with worry? One parent told me that you don’t know what it means to pray until your kids start driving (our oldest hasn’t started driving yet, but I get the feeling I’ll know what she meant as soon as he does).
As people get older, the same dynamic tends to play out. Only this time, the roles tend to be reversed. Elderly parents don’t want to lose the independence that comes with driving, and their now-adult kids are the ones who are worried sick over the fact that their parents are still driving.
At this point, we need to be very clear that there is no magical age associated with a person being able to drive. We’ve all probably seen more than a few 16-year-olds that we worry about being on the road. Conversely, we’ve probably seen more than a few 86-year-olds who are the model of good, safe driving.
Driving is mainly determined by one’s physical and mental health. As some people get older, they might experience vision and hearing loss. Others might see decreased mobility and flexibility, making it harder to check their blind spots or use their pedals. Others suffering from cognitive decline might find themselves getting confused at times or have slower reaction times than they had in the past.
As with many things, we usually don’t lose our ability to drive overnight. Experts recommend a variety of steps to take if we are still able to drive but lack the confidence and ability that we enjoyed in the past. For example, try to plan trips ahead of time so that you are not traveling on the busiest roads at the busiest times of the day. Another suggestion is to avoid night driving, which can honestly bother people of all ages. Finally, be aware of the possible side effects for any medications that you are taking. Do any have the potential cause drowsiness or dizziness?
Hard as it is, some of us will have to give up our driving privileges at some point. There is simply too much as stake. If you are an adult child needing to approach the topic with your parent(s), do so with empathy. “Imagine how you would feel if you were in your parent’s place,” advises Harriet Vines, author of Age Smart: How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy. She also cautions against using accusatory or demeaning language. Instead, she recommends phrases such as “We’re concerned,” “We care,” or “We don’t want you to get hurt or to hurt others.” It’s also helpful to come to the conversation with some suggestions, such as transportation services that cater to the elderly.
How easy is all of that? Obviously, not very. One survey found that many Americans would rather discuss funeral arrangements with their parents than discuss taking their keys away. Just do the best you can and pull in an independent third party if necessary, as your parents might perceive them to be a more unbiased source of information. Recommendations include a family attorney, physician, pastor, or organizations such as AAA or AARP. As with any difficult family conversation, try to approach the subject in the most loving, tactful, and respectful way possible.
LivWell Seniors serves as a local agency providing community-based resources that are 100-percent free to seniors and their families. They are funded by the senior care providers that utilize their service and network of connections. For further information, contact us at 563-265-1553, or visit our website at www.livwellseniors.com.
“The gift of friendship… a willingness to listen, a pair of helping hands, a whisper from the heart. That someone cares and understands.”