After decades of driving, your senior parent may reach a point where he or she can no longer drive safely. Look for several physical and mental health signs that indicate it’s time for your parent to retire the keys. Then discover tips that help you talk with your loved one about making this necessary but difficult life change.
14 Signs that It May Be Time To Assess Your Elderly Parents Driving
Several physical and mental health signs can indicate that your parent should end her driving career. Plan to ride along with our parent and watch her behavior when she’s not on the road as you assess her driving capabilities.
- Medications Have Side Effects
- Failing Eyesight
- Hearing Impairment
- Physical Limitations
- Slower Reaction Time
- Disorientation or Getting Lost
- Road Rage
- Signs of Dementia
- Driving Mistakes
- Numerous Traffic Citations
- Increase in Accidents
- Auto Insurance Rate Changes or Cancellation
- Failure to Pass Driving Test
- Concern from Others
MedicationsCertain medications cause side effects like blurred vision, drowsiness, confusion or tremors, and multiple medications can interact negatively when taken together. If you observe or suspect any concerns about medication, talk with your parent or his doctor.
Failing EyesightDrivers must be able to see the vehicle’s speedometer, other cars, traffic signals, and pedestrians whether they drive during the day or at night. However, vision deterioration affects many older drivers. Encourage your parent to schedule regular eye exams, wear the proper prescription eyeglasses and address other issues such as cataracts or glaucoma.
Hearing ImpairmentHearing loss often happens gradually. Over time, your parent may become unable to hear a warning horn, emergency sirens or other sounds that keep them safe on the road. Ask your parent to get regular hearing tests or talk to her doctor if you notice signs of hearing impairment.
Physical LimitationsDriving requires the vehicle’s operator to push floor pedals, operate the gear shifter, see above the steering wheel, and turn to look out the windows before turning or merging. Your aging parent may experience pain, arthritis, decreased height, or other physical problems that impair his ability to perform these physical movements and operate the vehicle safely. You may need to discuss these concerns with your parent and his doctor.
Slower Reaction TimeQuick reflexes help drivers avoid accidents. As your parent ages, she may not respond as quickly to traffic changes or emergency situations, warranting a discussion about driving safety.
Disorientation or Getting LostYour parent may have a bad sense of direction and frequently get lost while driving. However, if you notice that she seems disoriented or gets lost even when driving to familiar locations, consider that age, dementia or another factor may be the cause.
Road RageDriving can include frustrations. Uncharacteristic anger or rage may indicate that your parent is mentally unfit to drive, though.
Signs of DementiaTo operate a motor vehicle, your parent must be able to control the car and navigate it successfully. Dementia can affect focus and concentration or cause your parent to forget how to operate the car. Even if your parent doesn’t have an official dementia diagnosis, be aware of its symptoms.
Driving MistakesWhile riding in the car with your dad, you notice that he forgets to use his turn signal, almost runs a stop sign or veers into the opposing lane of traffic. These and other small mistakes may be common among drivers of any age, but numerous driving mistakes could indicate another problem and precipitate a conversation about reducing driving time.
Numerous Traffic CitationsObserve your parent’s traffic citation history. An increase in citations indicates that your parent may be a hazard on the road.
Increase in AccidentsAn increase in accidents, including minor fender benders, can indicate that your parent is unable to operate a vehicle safely. Because your parent may not admit when she bumps into the mailbox or scratches another car, check the vehicle for dents, dings and other evidence of accidents.
Auto Insurance Rate Changes or CancellationAuto insurance companies may forgive a single accident or traffic violation ticket, but multiple accidents and tickets warrant a premium increase or possibly a policy cancellation. In this case, your parent should not be driving.
Failure to Pass the Driving TestLike all drivers, your parent must renew their driver’s license every four years. While the renewal process doesn’t require a driving test, you can ask your parent to take a test or undergo a professional driving assessment. The results indicate your parent’s ability to maneuver the vehicle safely.
Concern from OthersIf your parent’s doctor, friends or family members mention concerns about your parent’s driving capabilities, it may be time to talk about taking away the keys.
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Tips to Talk With Your Parents About Their Driving FutureAfter you notice signs that your parent should probably not be driving, prepare to talk to her. You’ll want to take several steps to ensure you remain respectful and don’t harm your relationship as you take this important step.
- Don’t overreact.
- Prepare your case.
- Talk to professionals.
- Form a team.
- Research transportation options.
- Consider your parent’s perspective.
- Recommend a driver evaluation program.
- Focus on others.
- Offer an alternative use for the car.
- Recommend professional counseling.
- Be prepared for potential backlash.
- Remain calm.
Don’t overreact.You may be tempted to take your parent’s keys after one accident. Take your time, though, and remember to gather all the facts and exercise compassion before you take action.
Prepare your case.Gather all supporting data, including specific examples and behaviors, that proves your parent should no longer drive. Also, include information from a doctor, insurance company or other sources if you have it.
Talk to professionals.A geriatric case manager can offer transportation alternatives or tips on how to initiate the driving discussion with your parent. You may also ask your parent’s medical doctor and eye doctor for insight into his condition or recommended compromises, such as limiting your parent’s driving to daytime only or not driving until after his medical condition improves. Be aware that you may need a power of attorney to discuss specific details with your parent’s physician.
Form a team.Talk to your siblings or parent’s doctors, share your concerns and listen to their perspective. Ideally, you will all be in agreement before you decide what steps to take next, but if you do disagree, make time to come to a resolution.
Research transportation options.Because your parent will not be able to drive, provide a list of alternative transportation options, including their costs, that allow her to maintain her social life, run errands and see her doctors. For example, your siblings could share driving responsibilities, or your parent could hire a driver, take public transportation or use a rideshare service provided by the local senior center or Council on Aging.
Consider your parent’s perspective.Try to understand what it will mean to your parent to lose her car, independence and autonomy, and think about his personality. With these details in mind, you can choose the right words, timing and strategy as you prepare to discuss his driving habits.
Recommend a driver evaluation program.The local DMV, AAA club, Veterans Administration medical group, or other organization may offer a driver evaluation program. It assesses your parent’s attention, reaction, vision, perception, judgment, and safety awareness. Find a program and ask your parent to participate. In some cases, the program requires a doctor’s prescription, and it may not be covered by insurance, but the results can determine if your parent is capable of driving safely.
Focus on others.Rather than focus on your parent’s driving abilities, discuss the safety of others, including grandchildren who may ride in the car with your parent, or share how you would feel if your parent were injured in an accident. Remind your parent that her delayed reaction time, poor night vision or forgetfulness could also cause an accident that injures someone else.
Offer an alternative use for the car.Perhaps a family member could buy your parent’s car or money from its sale would support your parent’s favorite charity. You can also discuss how your parent could spend the money he will save when he retires the car and no longer has to pay maintenance, fuel or insurance costs.
Recommend professional counseling.Losing driving privileges may cause your parents to feel grief, anger or frustration at the thought of losing their independence, health or social relationships. Suggest your parent see a professional therapist and work through her feelings.
Be prepared for potential backlash.No aging parent wants to admit that he needs to slow down and relinquish his car keys, so prepare yourself emotionally and mentally for your parent to deny any problems.
Remain calm.Your attitude affects your parent’s attitude, so do your best to remain non-confrontational, supportive, understanding and calm as you talk with your parent about retirement from driving. When it’s time for your aging parent to stop driving, you must recognize the physical and mental health signs and prepare for an honest conversation. Additionally, we understand how giving up the car may affect your parent’s independence. Contact us for assistance in modifying your parent’s home to promote your loved one’s independence and safety at home.
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Just starting the conversation about your parent's driving can be difficult. Let our specialists help.Talk With a Mobility Specialist Today