Suggesting that your elderly parent limit or stop driving is an emotionally charged discussion no adult child wants to have. Your mother or father probably has a lifetime of driving experience behind them, and the idea of not being able to drive may threaten their independence, mobility and dignity.
Yet, due to the welfare of your parents and the other people who share the road with them, there are several valid reasons for having this tough conversation. Age-related declines in vision, hearing, cognitive functioning, motor reflexes and other physical changes can affect some older adults' driving abilities, making them more vulnerable to car accidents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on each day in 2017, approximately 20 adults aged 65 and older were killed and an additional 700 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Because the aging process is different for everyone, there's no arbitrary age at which someone should stop driving. The main consideration is not age, but the ability and health of the driver.
Ways to Help Your Senior Parents Stay Safe on the Road
Auto safety analysts point to some of the advantages senior drivers have:
- They typically follow the rules and wear seat belts
- They're more inclined to observe the speed limit
- They're less prone to drinking and driving
Assuming the above is already true for your parent, here are some tips you can share with them to ensure they cover all the bases of safe driving.
1. Follow a regular physical exercise program that focuses on increasing strength and flexibility. If pain, stiffness or arthritis affect your parent's driving, suggest they speak with their doctor.
2. Review both prescription and over-the-counter medications with a doctor or pharmacist to be sure side effects and interactions aren't affecting your parent's ability to concentrate and drive safely. The CDC reports 80% of older adults take one or more medications daily. The CDC offers a helpful medicines riskfact sheet with more information.
3. Encourage your parent to schedule a vision checkup at least once a year. Eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration, can cause vision problems. If your parent needs corrective eyewear while driving, make sure the prescription is up-to-date and correct.
4. Drive during daylight and in good weather. Suggest your parent stop driving at night if seeing in the dark is difficult.
5. The National Institute on Aging advises to have a hearing checkup at least every three years after age of 50. If there's hearing loss, don't play music while driving to make it easier to hear sirens and horns.
6. Plan out the safest route to a destination before leaving home. Choose one that avoids fast-moving highways and freeways and has well-lit streets, minimal left turns and easy parking.
7. Suggest your parent enroll in a defensive driving course, which might even lower their car insurance premiums.
8. Consult an occupational therapist or a certified driving rehabilitation specialist if your parent can benefit from certain adaptive equipment that makes it easier to steer or operate the foot pedals.
Signs That Indicate Your Parent May Be an Unsafe Driver
AARP suggests the best way to know if your parent is having trouble driving safely is to observe them and look for warning signs. The following are some of the most common indications that it might be time to have that difficult conversation.
1. Trouble with the basics, such as:
- Braking or accelerating suddenly without reason
- Making sudden lane changes
- Drifting into other lanes
- Not using the signal when making turns
- Leaving the turn signal on without changing lanes or long after a lane-change is made
2. Multiple vehicle crashes, near misses or moving violation tickets
3. New dents, dings or scrapes on the car
4. Slow to respond to unexpected situations
5. Decrease in confidence while driving and anxiety about driving at night
6. Becoming easily distracted or flustered while driving
7. Hitting curbs when backing up or making right turns
8. Comments from friends or neighbors about driving
9. Recommendations from a doctor to modify driving habits or quit driving altogether
10. Problems with memory, such as getting lost frequently or missing familiar exits. People with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia often don't realize they're having driving problems, so family and friends must monitor the individual's driving ability closely.
If you need help preparing for a conversation with an elderly parent about their unsafe driving, AARP offers a free online seminar called We Need to Talk. It can provide you with the tools to begin a casual conversation and engage your parent in self-evaluation.
Brightview communities know how much seniors value their independence and freedom of movement. That's why we provide access to safe, reliable transportation at all of our senior living communities. Shuttle services ensure our residents can continue to live vibrant, active lives.