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Aging Parents – Asking the Difficult Questions about Driving

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Date : November 13,2013
By : Elvis Donnelly

Asking older drivers to give up their car keys is wrenching, almost like taking candy from a baby. While some parents will relinquish their keys without so much as a murmur, there are others who will adamantly hold on to their rights to drive and put up a good fight. Remember the good old days when you had to fight for the car keys? Well, the tables are now reversed!

And if you’re thinking you’re probably the only who has to deal with such extremely abstinent, stubborn and difficult parents (now you know where you got it from?), you’re obviously mistaken. You’re not alone. Asking aging parents to stop driving was one of the most difficult things to do according to a recent study by Pfizer. Almost 40 per cent of respondents thought the hardest conversation they’ve had to have with their aging parents was to ask them to give up driving and hand over the car keys.1 As if talking to your parents about their final wishes or wills wasn’t tough enough, the “stop driving” conversation seems to be the hardest of all! But why are we so concerned?

The numbers say it all

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated a figure of 28.5 million drivers above the age of 70 in 2011 which accounted for 9 per cent of the population. As far as future projections go, 1 in 4 drivers will be over 65 in the next 12 years. It’s also predicted that by 2030, a quarter of all fatal car crashes will be caused by drivers who are at least 65 years of age.

Are these numbers setting off any alarm bells? It’s frightening to think that a parent’s refusal to give up his or her car keys can have such major consequences, especially when your parent may have already been involved in an accident in the past. It is even more obvious now that caring for your parent involves having that difficult conversation about driving.

Where do I start?

Initiating a conversation about an aging parent’s driving may be the biggest dilemma for most people, but here are a few pointers to help you get started.

Talk about health or age related issues

Failing health is one of the biggest reasons why an aging parent needs to give up the car keys. Degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, memory loss, inability to hear and diminishing vision are some of the reasons that deter an older person from handling the car the same way as he did earlier. Talking about these sensitive issues and relating them to why one must not drive is important.

Observe your parents’ driving

Going for a ride in the car when a parent is driving can help you determine how they drive and the areas where they struggle. This can help you when you talk to them about the way they drive and why you think they should give up.Keeping a record will help you in your observations.Here’s a helpful checklist: pdf.
It’s a great tool to help identify the problem areas of older drivers.

Consider driving retests and other senior benefits

Driving tests for seniors is a good idea to gauge an older person’s driving skills. If your parents still feel they are competent drivers, ask them to apply for safe driver courses and senior discounts like those under the AARP driver safety program. It can help keep your parent safer while on the road.

Offer them alternative modes of transport

Calling a cab, carpooling or riding on the bus are good alternatives to driving a car as an older person is safer using these ways to get around. Also, make sure you or someone in the family offers to take them around when no other mode of transport is available. This will help them feel that they are still able to go to places even without their own car.

Finally, support your parents together as a family

Supporting your aging parents is essential as you initiate a conversation about why they need to stop driving. It is important that you commit to making sure they are safe and that means being persistent even in the midst of opposition. Getting other members in your family to support you will help your parents see that it is not just you who is concerned. Even involving a family friend as a mediator in such a conversation can be helpful.

Talking to your elderly parents about their driving can be a difficult conversation, but it is a conversation you need to have soon. Taking a small step by asking them to stop driving requires patience and diplomacy, but it can be one of the best things you could do for the safety of your parents and others, especially if you have noticed a change in the way they drive. Where older drivers are concerned, even the smallest incident should never be brushed off as a minor one – it may be time for a handover of the car keys.

Author bio: Elvis Donnelly is a father of two who works from home and lives with his wife. He is a voracious reader and likes to keep abreast of current affairs on personal finance, technology and innovation, and takes a keen interest in environmental issues. In his spare time, he loves taking on home improvement projects and considers himself a closet chef.