Arguably one of the most American traditions is being able to hop in the car and drive wherever your heart desires. Road trips are inherent to our culture and are often considered a rite of passage. Even as we get older, that urge to hit the open road doesn’t really diminish. Luckily, many older individuals are perfectly capable of driving safely, even into their 70s and 80s. However, age does have an effect on our ability to be completely safe behind the wheel.
It’s a sad fact that advanced age usually diminishes reaction time. In addition, older individuals who are in an accident are much more likely to be seriously injured. Yet, asking our loved ones to give up the freedom of driving is often a difficult task. If you aren’t sure whether or not it’s time to take the keys from your loved one, consider these factors.
WHY DRIVING IS MORE DANGEROUS FOR OLDER DRIVERS
There are quite a few reasons why older drivers can be a danger to themselves and others on the road. For one, their eyes and ears simply may not be as strong as they used to be. Diminished senses can make it much harder to notice dangers on the road, such as small animals or approaching sirens. They may also be much more sensitive to the bright sun or headlights.
Even if they do notice dangers on the roadways, they may be far less able to react quickly enough to them — if at all. Not only does the mind tend to slow down with age, but issues like arthritis or conditions like Parkinson’s can make the physical act of quick maneuvering painfully impossible. If they take medication for these or other health problems, that medication could also slow down their reaction time substantially.
WARNING SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR
If you are concerned about your loved one’s compromised driving ability, take a ride with them. There are some warning signs you can look out for:
• Difficulty driving at night
• Getting lost often, even on roads they should know by heart
• Reduced peripheral vision
• Drifting in and out of their lane
• Erratic driving habits, including sudden acceleration or braking, abrupt lane changes, running into curbs and even scaring pedestrians
• Constant claims that a car/pedestrian/stationary object just “came out of nowhere”
• Trouble with their range of motion, including shifting gears or looking over their shoulder
• Trouble reading signs or directions• More frequent at-fault accidents and traffic citations
• Unwilling or unable to drive on the highway at high speeds
It’s a good rule of thumb that, if you feel unsafe in the car with your loved one driving, they probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel. When you are conducting your “evaluation,” be sure to stay objective. You may be tempted to do one of two things: look over major issues as just “one time occurrences,” or nitpick every tiny mistake, like forgetting to use the blinker once when changing lanes. Remember that your loved one is human, and will make some mistakes like all drivers do. But if those mistakes are dangerous ones, consider having “the talk.”
NOW COMES THE HARD PART
If you have decided your loved one can no longer drive safely, talk first with your other family members about the issue. Explain what you’ve seen and experienced, and see if they share your concerns. Talking to your loved one about taking their keys is much easier with others to support your decision. Once you’ve discussed with your family, talk with your loved one and see if they agree that they should no longer drive. If they agree, great! However, they will most likely say that they are great drivers, and you’re just paranoid or worried for no reason.
This is when the conversation becomes more difficult. You may be accused of trying to control their life or diminish their freedom (it’s an American right to drive, after all!). Or, your loved one may say they feel they will become even more isolated than they currently are, and will become depressed. Don’t let these arguments take your focus from the ultimate issue: Their safety, and that of other drivers on the road.
Explain your concerns in detail. “You drive erratically, and I’m worried you will get into a wreck.” It may seem like a dirty tactic, but ask how they would feel if the person they injured in an accident was another person their age or, heaven forbid, one of their grandchildren. If they say that it would never happen to them, remind them that an accident is just that — not planned. On the more logical side, you could also explain that being in a wreck could ruin them financially.
If they still won’t budge, consider getting their physician to write a letter, backing up your views. One of the biggest concerns for senior loved ones is being trapped in their home with no way to leave. Reassure them that the family will come over often and make sure they can go where they need to go. Or, consider in-home senior care services for the times you can’t be there.
The conversation to take away your senior loved one’s driving permissions is never an easy one. But with the family there to support and assuage them during this difficult time, the conversation can go much more smoothly. If you have realized that your loved one is at a point that they should not live alone, much less drive, consider moving them into an assisted living community. Contact Dogwood Forest of Grayson today to learn more about how we can help you and to schedule a tour of our model rooms. Call us at 404-496-2319 or visit us online at www.DogwoodForest.com/Grayson.