Almost all of us depend on driving our cars to get around and live independently. For that reason, elderly people in the U.S. are much more likely to drive well into old age. While this is a great way for many elderly adults to maintain an independent, active lifestyle, there comes a time for most people when it is no longer safe to drive.
Elderly people are the most at risk group of drivers on the road when it comes to accidents resulting in injury or death. In fact, every day, an average of 500 elderly drivers are injured in crashes. Often this is because health issues slow reflexes or make it difficult to recognize threats in the road. Despite warning signs, many elderly adults oppose giving up driving, because they fear the dependency it requires. Often they will resist doctors’ and family members’ suggestions that they quit driving. While it can be an emotional conversation and often causes tension in families, you need to be prepared to discuss this issue with loved ones who should not be driving anymore to keep them safe.
Signs that an elderly drivers should not be driving anymore
There are many factors to consider when making a decision like this that will drastically impact a loved one’s life. It is important to involve doctors and other professionals like driving specialists in the conversation. However, the following are signs that you should begin this dialogue:
- They are on medications that could impair reflexes or senses. This is especially true if the medication warns against operating heavy machinery or can cause drowsiness.
- They are having eyesight problems. Although sometimes vision problems can be resolved with proper eye-wear, elderly people are especially vulnerable to vision problems that cannot be solved simply by corrective lenses. Problems with peripheral vision, sensitivity to light, poor night vision, and difficulty reading road signs even with glasses make it difficult to drive safety.
- They are losing their memory. While we all have occasional memory lapses, consistent difficulty remembering basic things could lead to a dangerous mishap on the road. If a doctor is concerned with your loved one’s memory loss, they should not be driving.
- They are losing driving reflexes. If seniors are beginning to have difficulties with their range of motion, they may not be able to do essential tasks like checking a blind spot or looking over suddenly to deal with an emergency situation. Maybe they cannot turn left due to declining of depth perception or can’t take the simplest path in order to avoid high-speed highways. If it is not normal behavior, ask them why and consider if their actions can really resolve the problem. Furthermore, if they are confusing the brake and gas pedals or cannot insert they key into the ignition well or just generally seem flustered when having to start the car, these are signs that driving may have become too difficult.
- They are having more close calls on the road or are getting more driving citations. If you have noticed that your elderly loved one is having more “close calls” or almost accidents on the road, this can be quite dangerous. Also, if there are unexplained scrapes or dents in the car or if the elderly driver has started hitting curbs or crossing lane lines, these are signs of greater difficulty. Finally, actual citations or warnings from the police are a further wake-up call.
Talking to your elderly loved on about the problem
It is never easy to tell someone you care about that they should consider not driving, but it is an important discussion to have. Here are the most important things you can do to make this process easier.
- Be understanding and respectful. Many senior citizens depend on driving for their independence, so this discussion may be hard for them. Make sure not to infantilize them or to ignore their opinions. Listen and be honest. Don’t dismiss their feelings and try to make the transition as easy as possible for them.
- Use specific examples when giving reasoning. An important way to show your respect and at the same time be convincing is to talk about specific instances you noticed their driving was dangerous and why.
- Show them alternatives to driving. It is much easier to handle a difficulty if you know that there are other options. Tell them about any rideshare programs or public transportation for senior citizens in your city. Also, check to see if ITNAmerica operates in your city. It provides volunteer-based transportation for seniors 24/7. If you have a plan to keep their lives intact, they will be much more receptive.
- Don’t do it alone. You probably don’t always know best. However doctors, other family members and even other caretakers can give their input. An elderly person is more likely to listen to you all rather than any one individual. Finally, it shows how much you all support them. Remember the goal is not to gang up on the person, but rather to form a community of support for them in this difficult transition.
If you are going to broach this subject with a senior citizen, make sure to do it with love. Do your research and really listen. If you make really believe they are endangering themselves or others, you would be remiss not to. While hanging up your keys may seem like the end of the world, it is much better than a terrible car crash.