Nobody wants to have “the conversation.” But, it’s a fact of life. Aging affects one’s ability to drive. Many of us may already know that the time for our aging parents to give up the car keys was last year. But how can you successfully discuss this delicate subject and persuade mom or dad to surrender the car keys… and not disown you? Experts on elder care offer the following:
• Be respectful. For many seniors, driving is synonymous with their independence. Take away their autonomy (and their car) and you’re pushing them toward a jarring, unattractive reality. Expect strong resistance. Nonetheless, with everyone’s safety being the top priority, you cannot be intimidated or back down if you have a real concern. Who should initiate and lead the conversation? That’s the person who is least in need of sensitivity training.
• Cite specifics that triggered your concern: It’s easy to dismiss comments like “you just can’t drive safely any more…” But if you offer specific concerns that you have noticed, such as “you have more difficulty now turning your head than you used to”, or “you’re not braking early enough and instead you’re braking suddenly; I noticed this the last time we drove…” you may have their attention.
• Find consensus. If more than one family member or close friend has noticed, it’s less likely to be perceived as ‘ganging up’ on mom or dad. A loved one may also listen to a more impartial party, such as a doctor or longtime friend who’s voluntarily surrendered his keys. Remember, a trusted doctor’s recommendation may nullify a great deal of resistance.
• Help find alternatives. The person you’re trying to persuade may be so used to driving that he or she has never considered any other option. Offer practical transportation alternatives. If your family member is reluctant to ask for help, it can lead to isolation, anger and depression.
• Understand the difficulty of the transition. There’s no getting around the fact that is viewed as a loss. Don’t dismiss their feelings but try to help with the transition as much as possible, focusing on the positives—the fact that they made the right decision in time, before there were tragic consequences to themselves or other family members or friends.
• Recognize that if the discussion is going too smoothly, something is wrong. Agreement and cooperation that comes too quickly should make you suspicious. Trust your mom or dad but be sure that they haven’t outsmarted you. If you consider yourself independent and resourceful, remember who taught you how to overcome the obstacles. It’s just that now the obstacle is you and you have to watch them!
To help ease the transition and make it easier for them to get around, you may want to click on this AARP site:
AARP Assistance for senior mobility