When is it time to stop driving and how do you approach it?
By: Karin Pauly
Begin with understanding that for many of us, driving is important because it represents independence and control. We drive to engage in social activities, go to work, and take care of daily needs. When a loved one is facing the loss of driving, he or she may feel incompetent or stripped of dignity. Conversations around this topic can be difficult and emotionally charged. Some of our loved ones have been driving longer than their caregivers have been living.
It is important to know when your loved one is at an increased risk while driving. Health factors that can impact driving safety include medications, vision, hearing, tremors, loss of coordination, shortness of breath, fatigue, and confusion or dementia.
Observe your loved one driving when you can. Ask to ride along on short trips and pay attention to stopping at stop signs and red lights, appropriate yielding, merging and changing lanes correctly, staying in the lane, and responding to other vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians, and road hazards.
Here are the warning signs of unsafe driving
- Getting lost on familiar routes
- Decreased confidence in driving
- Driving so slowly as to impede safe driving or stopping inappropriately in intersections or at green lights
- Driving too fast or aggressively
- Incorrect signaling or failure to yield to traffic signs
- Difficulty maintaining lane position
- Becoming easily distracted
- Hitting curbs, or mailboxes
- Delayed responsiveness to other drivers and conditions
- Near misses or accidents
Be sure to seek out input from other family members, friends or neighbors on what they have observed about your loved one’s driving.
Plan ahead when possible, by including your loved one in the process. It is important to consider the abilities of your loved one as he or she may be safe to drive for a while. It may be best for your loved one to transition their transportation. For example, it may be fine to drive for coffee down the street. While longer trips to an unfamiliar metropolitan area may require a driver for your loved one.
If your loved one has dementia, have the conversation during the early stages of the disease so you can discuss options of limiting and stopping driving.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers online driving information and a contract your love one can complete to share wishes about what should happen when he or she can no longer drive: https://alz.org/media/Documents/alzheimers-dementia-driving-info-contract-ts.pdf
Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to begin the conversation. Such as “I would like to talk to you about driving”, instead of “You are not a safe driver”.
Discuss other transportation options, such as family members helping out or a friend driving them to coffee. I utilized our local Faith In Action driving program to take my mother to the grocery store. She hesitated at first; however, became friends with a handsome man in a convertible from her generation and they had wonderful conversations.
Healthcare professionals may be willing to have a discussion with your loved one about driving concerns. If you would like them to help, contact them before an appointment so you do not have to bring it up in front of your loved one. They may ask a patient not to drive for a while when taking new medications, write a “prescription” to stop driving or refer them to an occupational therapist for a driving evaluation.
Other professionals who work with care plans such as care coordinators, case managers, lawyers or financial planners may be willing to discuss driving with your loved one. A caregiver I recently spoke with said the employee at the Department of Motor Vehicles kindly brought up the conversation to her loved one.
AARP and The Hartford offer a free online seminar on assessing driving skills and how to have this difficult conversation https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/we-need-to-talk/
Consider seeking an independent driving evaluation by an occupational driving rehabilitation therapist. These practitioners have science-based knowledge about life changes that can impact driving and may help drivers make a smoother transition to other forms of driving.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) database can help you find driving rehabilitation specialists near you: https://myaota.aota.org/driver_search/index.aspx?_ga=2.78077072.521012642.1565839125-1659808834.1565839125
AOTA also offers the CarFit program, in coordination with AARP, AAA and the American Society on Aging to help drivers find out how well they fit in their car, how to make adjustments and understand safety features of their car. Visit https://www.aota.org/Practice/Productive-Aging/Driving/Practitioners/Carfit.aspx to find out more.
What to do if your loved one won’t stop driving – Options include taking away keys, a driver’s license, selling the car or disabling the car. These should be a last resort as discussion and deciding with your loved one about their driving is ideal.
Be sure to provide your loved one with a photo identification if you have taken away their driver’s license to help them maintain a sense of dignity.
A caregiver once told me that her father had a car he loved, and when it was time for him to stop driving, he still would try to get in the car and drive. Finally, the family decided the car could no longer be at his home and that they must sell it. Instead, they decided to give it to his grandson who agreed to take good care of the car. This made her father extremely happy as it was helping his grandson and keeping his beloved car in the family. Of course, this would not work with an irresponsible teen driver, however in this caregiver’s situation, it was a workable solution.
AARP offers robust information on driver safety on their website, including on-line driving courses, seminars on how to talk about driving, technology and more. Visit: https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/
Thank you for doing the most important work in the world.
- At the Crossroads, Family Conversations about Alzheimer’s, Disease, Dementia and Driving, The Hartford
- Dementia and Driving, The Alzheimer’s Association, alz.org
- Find a Driving Specialist, The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., myatoa.aota.org
- We Need to Talk: The Difficult Driving Conversation, org/auto/driver-safety
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov/olderdrivers