Of the many uncomfortable conversations you will likely have with your loved one over the course of your caregiving journey, talking to them about giving up their driver’s license may be one of the hardest. It might seem like a trivial thing, but being able to legally drive is a symbol of so much more than just before able to get places quickly. It signifies independence and control, and feeling that you are losing those things can be incredibly challenging.
You want your husband or mother to feel that they still have their autonomy, but perhaps you’ve noticed things that have made you feel that it’s time to let them know that you’re concerned with their ability to drive safely. Here are some things you may have become aware of:
- Frequent close calls (i.e., almost crashing), dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs.
- Increased citations, traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers.
- Trouble with the fundamentals of driving such as making sudden lane changes, drifting into other lanes, and braking or accelerating suddenly without reason. Other examples include failing to use the turn signal, or keeping the signal on without changing lanes.
- Eyesight problems like not seeing traffic lights and street signs, or having to drive closer and closer to them to see them clearly.
- Hearing problems such as not hearing emergency sirens or horns honking.
- Problems with memory including missing exits that used to be second nature or getting lost frequently. While everyone has occasional lapses, if there’s an increasing pattern, it’s time to get evaluated by a doctor.
- Problems with reflexes and range of motion such as not reacting quickly enough if there’s a need to brake suddenly or quickly look back, confusing the gas and brake pedals, getting flustered while driving, or being quick to anger when behind the wheel.
So, how do you talk to your loved one about your concerns? Here are some tips:
Be respectful. Driving is often an integral part of independence. At the same time, don’t be intimidated or back down if you have a true concern.
Give specific examples. Instead of generalizations like “You can’t drive safely anymore,” outline specific concerns that you’ve noticed. For example: “You have a harder time turning your head than you used to,” or “You braked suddenly at stop signs three times the last time we drove.”
Find strength in numbers. If more than one family member or close friend has noticed, it’s less likely to be taken as nagging. A loved one may also listen to a more impartial party, such as a doctor or driving specialist.
Help find alternatives. The person may be so used to driving that they have never considered alternatives. You can offer concrete help, such as researching transportation options or offering rides when possible.
Understand the difficulty of the transition. Your loved one may experience a profound sense of loss having given up the keys, and not being able to drive can lead to isolation and depression. Try to help with the transition as much as possible. If it is safe, try slowly transitioning the senior out of driving to give them time to adjust. For example, your loved one may begin the transition by no longer driving at night or on the freeways, or by using a shuttle service to specific appointments, such as the doctor’s.
Have you had a conversation with your loved one about unsafe driving? We’d love to hear what’s worked for you!
Cassandra Van Dyck