As people age, it’s natural for them to lose capabilities they’ve spent a huge majority of their life enjoying, and especially for Americans, driving is one of those great freedoms we enjoy for many years. Unfortunately, at a certain point, enjoying one freedom can come at a risk to others, and it’s more important to be safe than sorry.
If you’re thinking it might be time to take away the keys, here’s a few ideas on how to approach that conversation and, ultimately, take the action of keeping your aging parents off the road.
Driving a vehicle is a responsibility every time a person gets behind the wheel. This applies not only to young, inexperienced drivers, but also to those who have been driving for decades. It’s not like riding a bike in the sense that a bike doesn’t have the same risks as traveling in a heavy, fast-moving vehicle that can injure others. But the mentality is often the same, regardless of generation, that driving is an innate function of being independent.
Taking this symbol of independence isn’t easy, but there are clear signs that a person shouldn’t be driving that are valid no matter who’s behind the wheel.
As human beings, no driver is perfect. However, being able to access their full range of senses and physical abilities is important to being a safe driver among others. If your older relatives have any of the following issues even if their driver’s license is valid, it might be time to have the hard conversation:
- Diagnosed visual impairment, such as untreated cataracts or glaucoma
- Hearing impairment
- Demonstrably slow reflexes
- Muscle weakness in the hands (grip), legs, or arms
- Lack of dexterity or fine motor skills
- Chronic pain or stiffness
Driving is a full-sensory activity, requiring close-to-ideal mental acuity to be done safely. Mental changes that could indicate your loved one shouldn’t be on the road include:
- Slow reaction times to stimuli (visual and auditory, importantly)
- Chronic fatigue
- Trouble performing multiple tasks at once
- Short-term memory issues
This process is often long, involves other people, and leads to arguments among family members. That’s not to say it’s not worth it, or the last hard conversation you’ll have to have with your aging loved ones, but it likely won’t be a simple, quick talk. Here are tips and what to expect from this process.
Depending on the overall health of your parent, make sure to treat them with dignity and autonomy. Appeal to concerns they might have about seeing friends, making appointments, or other activities that might be increasingly important that their car allows them to access. Assure them that they will continue to be able to do those things with arrangements you or their contacts can provide. And be prepared to have this conversation multiple times, especially with those who have problems with their memory.
Your loved one(s) may trust a few people in their lives with expert advice, including their doctor or other third party that has authority. A doctor could restrict their driving due to their prescription, a vision test, a hearing test, or other professional opinion. It’s also not unheard of for the Department of Motor Vehicles to hold non-necessary tests for aging people that could restrict or revoke their license, providing an anonymous source for keeping them off the road.
Finally, it’s often the case that the lonelier, less mobile people get, the more they cling to the autonomy they have left. Consider taking this time to talk about moving to an assisted or independent living facility, where activities take place within walking distance, transportation to important events is provided, and people make new friends within their cohort. This can help quench the need for their own vehicle while providing mental and physical stimulation that is proven to increase well-being in nearly everyone who can participate.
As you consider having these tough conversations with your aging loved ones, remember that there are more options open to you than simply yanking the keys away. At Byron Center Manor, we have beautiful, comfortable, and safe options for your parents to enjoy West Michigan with all the support they need. From independent living communities to memory care facilities, there’s a home here for your family to be treated like family. Call us to learn more about our neighborhoods or fill out an application online today.