Discussing a senior loved ones continuing ability to drive safely is right up there with religion and politics as topics to avoid at dinner time. On the one side, seniors value independence and driving is the ultimate get away that represents freedom. On the other hand, traffic fatalities involving older drivers are startling and families are right to be concerned. "On the basis of estimated annual travel, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and over is nine times as high as the rate for drivers 25 through 69 years old."
A Harvard publication summarizes that it's not hard to figure out why driving becomes more dangerous with age. The passing years often bring physical limitations, such as waning vision, poor hearing, trouble craning your neck to get a good look over your shoulder, or difficulty moving your foot swiftly from accelerator to brake. Cognitive changes such as slightly slower reaction times or increased difficulty in juggling all the sensory input at a busy intersection can also affect your driving. Neurological problems caused by Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and, in some cases, diabetes can impair driving skills even more seriously.
Will discussing a senior loved ones driving make a difference? One study shows that of the older adults surveyed who reported that someone had talked to them about their driving, more than half said they listened to and followed the suggestions of others. Here are some pointers for initiating the difficult conversation:
Speak in a confidential environment
Be sure the speaker is someone the elder trusts and respects
Create a united front with the family
Consider the personalities involved and who has been most successful in the past at handling difficult topics with the elder
Try to avoid issuing an ultimatum
Consider persons other than spouses and adult children to deliver the message
In the same survey mentioned above, 10% of older respondents said they would choose a close friend to initiate the driving conversation. If your elderly loved one has a police officer friend, this person might have considerable credibility. Key things to get started are first to observe the older driver, be sure to have a recent health exam to rule out any preventable barriers to sight, hearing, or reaction time, and investigate transportation alternatives so that there are some answers along with any necessary new constraints.
Lastly, as you support your elder through a difficult transition, remember that the message may need to be repeated. Each time, share genuine safety concerns and genuine caring, and your message will get through. Find additional resources on the topic of older driver safety at www.amac
Easy Living Services has been supporting Atlanta families with Home Care services since 1994. Companion Service includes; transportation to and from appointments, shopping and errands, social outings, meal preparation, light housekeeping and much more. Call for more information, 770-442-8664 or visit us at: www.easylivingservices.com