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Should My Loved One Be Driving?

That’s a loaded question and one that doesn’t have an easy answer. If you have an elderly loved one in palliative care in Alameda County and elsewhere and they have been exhibiting concerning behaviors behind the wheel, it may be time to have “the talk.” April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is a good time to start the conversation.

According to the National Safety Council, every day, eight people are killed and hundreds more suffer injuries in distraction-affected crashes. It’s not just teens that are distracted behind the wheel. Older adults, especially the elderly who may have memory problems, mobility issues, and chronic health conditions, are just as at risk for crashes — if not more so.

In fact, drivers with mind and brain aging are particularly susceptible to distraction because of waning cognitive resources as well as control over attention, says the National Library of Medicine. Still, even armed with this information, it can be difficult for a spouse or adult child to talk to their parent or other aging loved one about handing over the car keys. Here are some tips to help.

Signs it May be Time to Stop Driving

Here are some typical signs of unsafe driving to keep an eye out for, suggests the Mayo Clinic. Does your senior loved one:

  • Get lost repeatedly when driving to familiar places?
  • Become confused between the brake and gas pedals?
  • Have difficulty remaining in their lane?
  • Ignore traffic lights and signs?
  • Make slow, poor, or rash decisions?
  • Graze the curb when driving?
  • Become angry or confused when driving?
  • Get into many accidents or receive many traffic tickets?
  • Drive too slowly or too quickly?
  • Suffer from a medical condition such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma, muscular degeneration, or sleep apnea?
  • Show signs of memory loss?
  • Take medications that are known to impair driving, such as sleeping pills, narcotics, or anti-anxiety drugs?
  • Have problems with seeing or hearing?

Did you answer yes to any of these questions? You need to have the conversation before they hurt themselves or others. You could kick off the conversation by discussing the situation with their doctor at their next visit. Ask what their opinion is about your loved one driving. Let them talk to your loved one gently about why it’s a good idea to stop driving. In private, reiterate what the doctor said and let your loved one know you understand their concerns about giving up independence. Above all, remain sensitive to their reaction, approaching the conversation in a way that shows your underlying concern.

It can be tough to give up control, especially for parents of adult children who have historically been the ones having the tough talks with their children. Reversing that relationship after decades of this dynamic can be hard to swallow.

They may protest with you, saying they will just go slow and take it easy. However, while they may slow down on the roads, pay attention and wear their seat belts, the risk of fatality from a car crash indeed increases with age, says Medicare.

Tips For Initiating the Conversation

Check out these helpful tips for starting this often painful discussion with your senior loved one. And remember, it’s not always about one big conversation. In most cases, it doesn’t have to be of an intervention-type severity but instead can be a series of small discussions that occur over time.

  • Bring up the topic with them as soon as you notice something is off. It’s a good idea to take your concerns to their doctor right away. Your loved one may be stubborn with family members and minimize your concerns, but they are much more likely to listen to their doctor.
  • Make sure they stay involved in the planning and decision-making process.
  • Tell them the decision to stop driving is not just for their own safety, but the safety of everyone else on the road — drivers and pedestrians alike.
  • Be aware of what they may be feeling and try to be gentle whenever the subject is broached. Try to think of how you would feel if your children came to you and asked you to hand over the keys after a lifetime of being independent.
  • Remind them that they don’t have to feel homebound because they don’t have access to their own car any longer. Offer to bring them to their doctor’s appointments, lunches with friends, religious services, grocery stores, etc. Many seniors are quite reluctant to give up their driving privileges due to a feeling of being “trapped” in their homes.

Bottom line is to make them feel safe, secure, and not under attack. This is a major conversation to have and not one to take lightly!

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We have a comprehensive palliative care program here at Pathways. To learn more about it and how it can help you or a loved one, contact us at 888-978-1306.