HOW TO APPROACH YOUR SENIOR PARENT ABOUT GIVING UP DRIVING

As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving

INTRO

As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - often over areas where they think they're doing fine, but where in fact they're actually not quite up to scratch like they used to be. One of the areas I had to talk to my Mum about was my Dad's driving when his dementia started progressing. He felt like he was still the competent driver of years gone by, when the reality was that he was getting lost on his way home from the shops, and he was losing his ability to react and respond in an emergency. 

Today I'm sharing some thoughts on how to broach the subject of giving up driving and how to do it in a way that causes the least amount of stress to both parties, because family is so important and nobody wants to cause a rift or upset if it can be avoided, and at the same time we need to ensure that everyone is safe.

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post. I feel it's relevant to, and of interest to Midlife women and I was in no way influenced by the company.


STARTING THE CONVERSATION

Sitting a parent down to discuss their ability to drive well is a difficult conversation to have. But, while it may be tough to initiate, it’s certainly vital once your mother and/or father hit a certain age. Seniors on the roads can become a danger to others and themselves if their driving ability isn’t what it used to be, and accidents can be avoided entirely if the conversation is started in time.

As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving

If you’ve begun to think about your mother or father’s ability to drive well, or have noticed certain behaviours whilst driving with them, it might be time they gave up driving. Broaching this topic with a senior parent can be daunting though - not only are you suggesting that their cognitive abilities are no longer what they used to be, but that they should give up a certain amount of independence, and this they will naturally resist.

WHY WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT

While a negative reaction is almost inevitable, what should encourage you to start the conversation is the dangers a senior driver can pose on the roads. According to the Transport Accident Commission, “Drivers aged 75 years or over have a higher risk (per distance travelled) of being killed in a crash than any other age group. As we age our bodies become more fragile and those particularly in this age group are more likely to be hurt or killed in a crash.”

As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

There are a number of warning signs you can pick up on before you head on into the conversation, and convince your parent it’s time to hand over their keys. In collaboration with Aged Care Prepare, here are a few signs to look out for:

- Take a trip to the shops are local pharmacy with them and keep an eye out for certain behaviours such as; do they follow all the basic rules of the road? Do they need to be reminded to indicate or slow down? How accurate are their reaction times? Do they ensure a safe following distance between their car and the car in front of them? Do they break unnecessarily or struggle to see oncoming cars at night time?

- Look out for fresh bumps or scratches on their car - this can be a sign that they are struggling to judge distances between themselves and other cars or objects in or along the road.

- Do they avoid driving on their own or at certain times - If you’ve noticed that they no longer want to drive alone and avoid driving at night, this can be a sure sign that they are no longer as confident on the road as they used to be.


HOW TO HAVE THE DISCUSSION

Once you have decided it’s time they stop driving, the conversation needs to happen, but in both a safe environment as well as a positive one. The conversation needs to be framed in a way that highlights the need for them to let go of their car, but that this will not signal the end of all their independence. Also, don’t be surprised if you are met with resistance, or if the first conversation doesn’t end in them handing over their keys. It’s a process they will need time to come to terms with. So, how do you phrase the conversation in a way that won’t end badly? Think of it as a three step process, rather than a once off chat:

STEP ONE

The first step would be to lightly broach the topic early. Even if they aren’t 100% ready to give up driving and they are confident on the roads during the day or during quick trips to the shops, begin the thought process before it’s too late and they cause an accident. This will allow them the time to consider life without a car, and all the options available to help them maintain and even improve their independence (short term restorative care being one).

STEP TWO

The next step would be to express your acknowledgement of how difficult it will be giving up that part of their life and that it is not an easy decision to make. Think back to the day you received your driver’s licence and the freedom and independence from others it gave you. Expressing this will lead you non-confrontationally into encouraging your parent it is time to give up driving by outlining the warning signs you have noticed, as well as the concern you have for their safety and others on the road.

STEP THREE

The third and final step is to highlight that this is not the end of their social freedom, but rather a new route to ensure their safety. Do some research into alternative modes of transport for them, so that when the conversation comes up you can list a number of ways they can still get out and about without being behind the wheel themselves. This involves understanding your mother or father’s everyday needs -- from trips to the doctor, to weekly meetups with friends and family -- so that you can suggest the ways in which they can get around. If they are in a retirement community there may be a communal van that assists in driving seniors around during the week, a public transport system nearby to assist them in buying their essentials or your help on weekends or certain weekdays.

As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving

SMOOTHING THE TRANSITION

Thinking of the conversation as a process, rather than a one-time chat will not only help you get through it a bit easier, but allow your parent the time to process the change. Giving up the right to hop in the car and drive wherever and whenever they desire to, is a big adjustment. Sharing your thoughts and concerns over time, with the help of alternative transport solutions and a supportive outlook will help a calm transition for both you and your parent.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you had to tackle any difficult conversations with your parents yet? I was impressed with how well my Mum responded to the discussion about my Dad and how she then went about taking away his keys and car. It was stressful and confronting, but ultimately the end result was so much better than an accident or possibly a death caused by him driving erratically or inattentively.


RELATED POSTS




As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving
As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving
As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving
As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving
As our parents get older we find ourselves in the tricky position of having to broach difficult topics with them - one of these is giving up driving - here's a few helpful tips on how to have that conversation. #elderly #driving

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24 comments

  1. My mom turned 96 in August and it was time to renew her driver's license. We had had the discussion that we (my sisters and I) thought it would be a good idea for her to stop but she seemed to get so defeated when we talked about it that we let her apply, hoping the DMV would do the work for us and say no. Unfortunately, the DMV let her take the test 3 times (!) and then gave her a license for 5 years! She was so proud of that and told everyone that the "State of California says I can drive until I'm 101!" She had a fall, however, and got a compression fracture so we took that opportunity to tell her that no matter what the "State of California" said, we were not going to let her drive anymore. I've been taking her where she needs to go but she is going to live with my sister soon so she'll take over. It is really difficult to make them give up that last bit of independence but it is necessary.

    Janet’s Smiles

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    1. Janet that is so interesting because we had the same experience with my Dad - he was well into the beginning of dementia and both my mum and his doctor thought he should stop driving, but he went for his test and they passed him. The thought of him being on the road and possibly crashing into someone else and killing them was a huge concern for me and I was so relieved when mum stepped up and made the decision for him. Independence is a tough thing to give up, but there is always support available and I think we need to remember this too when we reach our later years. Glad your sister is there to share the load with you x

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  2. Hi, Leanne - This is such an important post, and a timely one for so many of us. My mom gave up driving all on her own a few years back -- so I was spared that conversation. My mother and step-father continue to live in their own home. Illness and memory loss make this a worry. I have been slowly working away at this discussion. The advice that you have given above can also be applied here.

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful Donna - it's a conversation we'll all have to have at some stage with at least one of our parents. I really liked the idea of being prepared for it to be a process rather than expecting them to agree with us straight away. It takes the pressure off and allows for a re-visiting of the issue if needed. Good luck with your conversation with the inlaws x

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  3. Sometimes it may be successful to guide a parent to that decision but most of the time, your parent has a different lens and does not recognize driving is a problem. Don’t think you will be able to change their mind and don’t wait for them to take action. I live 2500 miles away from where my widowed 89 yr old dad lived. When I would visit it would alarm me that he would drive and get lost on the way to his place when he’d been driving that route for 70+ yrs; luckily I whipped out my smart phone googlemaps app. I also was with him when he ran several red lights and would discount my concern about that; also same issue running through stop signs without stopping- he would poo-poo my concern. I went to see his gerontologist at one of the most prestigious medical centers in the US which happened to be in the same city as my dad. She related dealing with this issue with other families and she informed me it might take up to 2 yrs to resolve this with my dad. I told her I was in for a week and I had to get it done then- I didn’t have 2 yrs to deal with it. At 89 he had lived a good life; my concern is that he would kill a young parent and orphan small children, not that he my father would die from the accident. I discussed this situation with his attorney of 20 hrs and the 3 of us had a meeting during that trip. She reinforced that he needed to stop driving and had my dad sign a letter to the DMV that my dad was voluntarily giving up his license and car since he had mixed dementia that seriously impaired his ability and judgement. I then took the car “pink slip” that I found in his place, took the car to be washed (after 3 yrs of not being washed) and saw that there were a bunch of yellow “streaks” on the car- same yellow from the protective building post guards in his garage. He had already trashed the transmission from simultaneously breaking and putting his other foot on the gas. I took the car to a dealer and agreed to their price. I also arranged with his law firm for him to use one of their drivers so that he could still make it to his card games. For years he would tell everyone “she took away my car”- I accepted that he was angry and sad. i did what I have to do. My reason of going on with this amount of detail is the you CAN’T WAIT to get a dangerous driver off the road when you know that has to happen. How will you feel if your inaction results in those deaths that i was concerned about?? Is being uncomfortable with saying “no” to your parent excusable if someone dies or is maimed as a result? What if you were the other driver- would you have hoped that a family member would have made the hard decision to take a loved one off the road? DON’T WAIT to make the critical decision and take action. It won’t get better with more discussions and your parent will never believe that they have a problem. Particularly with dementia, they will never change their mind.

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    1. Louisa you are so right - I felt exactly the same way when my Dad was driving around in the early stages of dementia. I think the problem is that we allow the situation to go on for longer than it should before we start the conversation - then it becomes much more stressful and major steps have to be taken. I insisted that my mum hide dad's car keys immediately - she was reluctant but when I said that my daughter and many, many others were driving innocently around in small cars while he was careening around in a large 4WD and it would be the other driver who was killed (not him) I think it made her realize how serious the situation had become.
      The secret is to be observant and to start the conversation early - maybe with enough time to allow for things to gently progress to giving up their licence. Distance makes it harder again, and also time passes quickly and before we know it we're having to step up and force the situation. I'm so glad you got your dad off the road and that you put something in place so he still had mobility - you did exactly the right thing for your situation. I hope that we all manage to get our parents to make the decision sooner rather than later so we can avoid dealing with so much stress and so much resentment from our elderly parents.

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  4. Leanne, that’s a great thought. I really do believe, having gone through this with a parent and an in-law, that you and they have a different “operating system”. They don’t see things the way you do and given that driving=freedom for that generation, they will never agree to give that up willingly. Luckily i was an only child so no opportunity to play 1 child against another as I’ve seen with my friends when they face this dilemma.

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    1. I'm the "responsible" child in my family Luisa and I know what it's like to have to make the tough decisions and have the "chats" with a parent. They may not realize it, but we have their best interests at heart and (although they resist) we'll keep having those discussions so that they (and everyone else) are kept as safe as possible.

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  5. This was so tricky. It wasn't just that my mum was ageing but that her health wasn't that great either. After "planting the seed" she came to realise that she wasn't using the car much anyway and the trips she did need to make, she could do with friends or in a taxi. In the end, selling her car was a smart move because she saved money too!

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    1. I think once they accept the whole idea it gets easier from that point Sam. Selling the car is the last step and then they put other transport into play and work around it. I totally get how difficult it would be, but how much worse would it be to have an accident that could have been avoided by admitting that the time had come to stop driving?

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  6. This was very useful information Leanne and a good way to start the conversation. My mother is still driving at 81 but I know it will be hard when the time comes to have this conversation with her. My father gave up his licence after a scare when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, but he changed cars twice saying the steering was all wrong - it actually was him that was a bit off and he finally realised it and how unsafe he was on the road. We were all really pleased he made the decision himself. #lifethisweek

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    1. I think every parent is different Deb - my mum's a very confident and competent driver still, but once my dad's dementia started to make inroads, his judgement and memory were too poor for him to be on the road. It's always a difficult conversation and one I hope isn't needed with mum down the track, but we'll see...

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  7. We did not need to have any conversations with our parents as they aged. My Mum had stopped driving about 2 years before her death and my MIL similarly when her eyesight was poor. I know my Dad, now almost 96, took the decision for himself because 1. He did not want to cause an accident to anyone 2. He lives in a very busy part of Sydney and traffic is worse 3. He knew his feet had neuropathy and he could not sense the pedals. He could have continued driving as he passed the on-road tests but he felt he no longer had the confidence nor the need. it was a bit sad when my brother took him to the RMS and he handed in his licence he had held since 1952 with no accidents and be given an ID card. Mind you, I gave up being a passenger with him a lot earlier than he gave up driving and always told him "I'll drive". We are mindful of our ageing but will, I am sure have the commonsense to apply to us doing this voluntarily. I am mindful that not all older people have that wisdom either because of illness or being stubborn.
    Thank you for linking up for #LifeThisWeek. Next week's optional prompt is 40/51 Share Your Snaps #8. 7/10/19. Do hope you join in too. Denyse.

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    1. Hi Denyse - you were very fortunate to have parents who took the decision upon themselves and saved you having to force the issue. No child likes to feel like they're making their parents' lives harder, but it seems a lot get stuck with having to sit down and have the "talk". I'm hoping my mum and MIL make the choice without having to be pushed too (and I hope we will as well - at least we're in a smaller area so traffic isn't such a concern).

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  8. I should have read this before I got in the car with my 80 year old father the other day. "Dad, there's no right turn here." "There used to be." "Well there's not anymore!"

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    1. Oh gosh - it's so ridiculous how hard it is to have the conversation Jo - and how desperately the conversation needs to be had! Good luck with gradually tackling yours!

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  9. I think this is such an important topic and one that we skirt around too much - thank you for highlighting it. Yes, it is difficult to have a tough conversation with elderly parents, but if they shouldn't be driving, they need to be told this very clearly and have access to their car/keys removed if necessary. My Dad took away his Dad's car keys, to his father's great displeasure, and my brother in turn took away my Dad's car keys to Dad's great displeasure, but in both cases it was necessary and probably should have occurred earlier. Both had a false impression of their own abilities. It's what happens to most of us. If we won't let our own kids be passengers with our parents, then they probably shouldn't be driving at all.
    Certainly, we can have staged, kind and empathetic discussions with our elders and provide them with assurances and alternatives to keep their independence (catching taxis when required is actually cheaper than maintaining a car in most cases for elderly people), but we should be prepared to take unpopular actions if needed for their own safety and the safety of others.
    I worked with a woman whose Dad killed a young mother in a car accident, when he shouldn't have been driving. He refused to accept blame for it either and continued to drive afterwards. It shouldn't be an option. I'll stop ranting now. Personally, I'd be happy to see compulsory testing of everyone over 65 every five years or similar, more often as we age. I expect I'll be very competent at 65 but I'm prepared to have my abilities tested. I wouldn't view it as an insult, rather than a policy designed to improve road safety and save lives. Who remembers the gorgeous six year old in NSW killed by an 89 driver a couple of years ago, as she crossed a pedestrian crossing in a shopping centre holding her mother's hand? Not only was the family destroyed, but it ruined the life of the elderly woman who was devastated about the accident.

    I hope when someone suggests to me I should give up the car I'll heed their well-intentioned advice without fuss and know it comes from a place of love.

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    1. Oh I know exactly what you mean about the elderly driver killing innocent people! I kept thinking about our teenage daughter on the road in her little tin can car and my dementia riddled dad out and about in his giant Jeep with seriously compromised driving skills and a complete lack of insight into the fact and the consequences. It made me feel sick and to push Mum to take his keys away. I think there comes a time where the child has to step up and become the parent - both parties hate it, but it's so necessary when it comes to stuff like this.
      I think those driving tests also need to be a bit less lenient with the elderly - they often pass when they shouldn't. I think they should also have to include a letter from their GP stating they're physically and mentally competent to sit the test - that might take a few more off the road.

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  10. This is always tough, isn't it? About the only elderly driver I've ever known who willingly quit driving before he had to was my grandfather. He just one day decided that he lived within walking distance of everywhere he went on a daily basis and could take public transportation if he wanted to go out of town so he'd just sell his car and quit driving before he "had to." I so admired him for that. Thank you for this very important post!

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    1. Hi Jean - they all seem to fight it til the bitter end. It worries me that I might when my turn comes. Maybe it's about making housing etc choices if we move later in life so that we're located somewhere we can access what we need without having to drive in traffic (or drive at all!)

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  11. Hi Leanne,

    You have written about a very relevant topic. I am sure a lot of people would have found themselves in similar situations. This is a very good step-by-step guide to handling a difficult task.

    In my case, it was not about driving. My dad was a very active person. He kept himself busy doing household chores, going out to the stores (which was just walking distance from our apartment complex) for purchase of grocery and household stuff. For him, it was a walk, as well as an activity that kept him busy.

    As he grew older and I thought he should not be going out like that, and I had to tell him. My fear was he could trip or slip and fall. And at that age a fall, especially outdoors, could be dangerous.

    It was tough telling him to stop doing something that he was not only so accustomed to doing but also thoroughly enjoyed doing. At first, he used to assure me that he would be careful, but he continued to go out. Then, I had to gently keep reminding him; trying to calmly make him understand why exactly I was telling him so. Finally, he understood that it was indeed difficult, and he stopped.

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    1. Hi Pradeep - I think that's an excellent example of doing it in stages - not making an ultimatum when it's already too late. Often we wait because we don't want to have to have the big talk with them, then they end up having an accident that could have been prevented if we'd talked with them sooner and given them time to adjust to the idea of giving something up. I'm so glad your dad realized before he had a fall.

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  12. My husband's father is getting to this point so thanks for the great tips and information! Thanks for sharing with us at The Blogger's Pit Stop!

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    1. It's a stressful time Roseann where we have to persuade our parents to do something they don't believe is necessary - but without action, it could result in all sorts of calamities down the track.

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