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Let's Talk: Having the Conversation About Senior Driving

Discussing a seniors 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 seniors 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

  • 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 your loved one.

  • 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 elder 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 senior love one 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.

Where do you turn when a love one needs more than you can manage on your own? What do you do when some of the care alternatives seem like a complication rather than a solution? Consult Atlanta's most trusted source for quality Home Care since 1994, Easy Living Services. Flexible care plans designed to guarantee safety, comfort, and personal care and attention. Call us at 770-442-8664 to discuss your specific needs.

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