Your parent may be full of zip, ideas and big plans, but last week you noticed a dent in the car fender or realized the mailbox was at a jaunty new angle. Did Dad — like all of us — have a moment of carelessness? How do you know when a bump is just a bump, or when it’s a sign that your loved one should pull off the road for good? Here’s how to tell the difference, and how to help your loved one transition from chauffeur to chauffeured.
Step 1: Talk
Talk about giving up driving long before it becomes a must. A matter-of-fact approach will help your loved one accept what’s ahead.
Step 2: Assess
Assess your family member’s driving skills by riding along regularly. Don’t present a drive as a test. Instead, tag along when your loved one is driving — in both daylight and darkness. From the front passenger seat you can look for signs of diminished driving ability. Don’t make age alone the deciding factor. Ability, agility and vision are the main criteria.
Signs to look for in your loved one’s driving:
- Is easily distracted
- Has delayed response to unexpected situations
- Runs lights or stop signs
- Clips the curb
- Exhibits lane drifting or has trouble changing lanes
- Misjudges distance
- Shows loss of driving confidence
- Has frequent close calls
- Drives too fast or too slow
- Other drivers honk often
- Gets lost in familiar places
- Not alert to other cars or pedestrians
- Family is worried about driving
- Has trouble moving foot from gas to brake
- Confuses gas and brake
- Has been pulled over by police for driving infraction
- Has had accidents, fender benders, car scrapes
If you notice these red flags, it’s time to have the conversation.
Step 3: Prepare
- Before broaching the topic, use resources such as the Eldercare Locator to review neighborhood services. Find referrals for senior transportation services, volunteer driver organizations and programs to help elders learn to use public transportation.
- Sign up your loved one for a ride-sharing service such as Lyft or Uber, or make arrangements with a local taxi service. Knowing that you won’t be entirely dependent on family and friends does a lot to soften the discussion ahead.
- Be part of the village. The Village to Village Network is a national neighborhood program designed to help people age in place. Village volunteers or ride-sharing services provide local rides. They also arrange group trips to places like the grocery store, library, and fitness and yoga classes, and host social events such as concerts, lectures, restaurant lunches and candlepin bowling.
Get ready for the conversation with AARP's We Need to Talk online seminar.
Step 4: Have the conversation
Remember that driving is as important to a person’s independence at 60 as it was at 16 — maybe more so. Approach with empathy and solutions. Here are a few tips.
Suggest a formal driving assessment. A professional, neutral party is almost always more convincing than a family member.
Expect resistance. For most people, handing over the keys is akin to snipping a lifeline.
Focus on safety. Protecting the driver and other people is the first talking point.
- Acknowledge that driving today is more intense than when your loved one was younger.
- There are more cars on the road, more aggressive drivers, more road construction and more distractions.
- Many roads are wider and more complicated.
- Your loved one — like many older people — may take prescription or over-the-counter medicine that can impair driving.
Be direct and honest. Cite examples of problems you observed when riding with your loved one, such as:
- An infraction like running a stop sign or light
- Not noticing a pedestrian or another car
- Trouble judging distance — such as stopping short, parking too close or lane drifting
- Other drivers honking
- Anxiety or lack of confidence
- Driving too fast, too slow, or both
Empathize. Assure your loved one that you understand this is a difficult loss, and that no one — including you — wants to give up the freedom of popping in on a friend, last-minute lunch dates or taking that pottery class. Acknowledge that being dependent on others for rides will mean paying someone or adapting to someone else’s schedule, shopping at someone else’s preferred grocery store, or giving up pottery because it conflicts with a grandchild’s soccer practice.
Introduce alternate transportation early in the conversation.
- Put apps for ride-sharing services on your loved one’s phone. If using a taxi service, enter the contact information. If your loved one is uncomfortable booking through an app, the senior transportation service GoGoGrandparent will do it for a small fee. It also will send a family text to let you know your loved one is being picked up, is en route — “Betty is on the move!” — and has reached the destination.
- Demonstrate how to use the ride-sharing app, going over the features, charges and options. Explain that drivers have been vetted by the company and are registered and insured, and that no money is exchanged at the time of the ride. For safety, the car is tracked using GPS; the rider sees a picture of the driver and knows the person’s name before the car arrives.
- Search for local volunteer groups that offer transportation for older people. Independent Transportation of America, for example, is a door-to-door, arm-to-arm service that provides rides to members age 60 and older. Dues-paying members book a car by phone, and a volunteer drives them to and from their activities. Assistance is offered. The nonprofit has affiliates in many parts of the country, including nonurban areas.
Step 5: Fight loneliness
Feeling isolated and depressed is a real danger when one is housebound. It’s important that your loved one continues to interact with friends, neighbors and the world. These plans of action will help make the transition easier.
- Have family outings.
- Make it easy for your loved one to see friends.
- Encourage your loved one to invite friends over or arrange to meet nearby.
- Continue established activities, such as classes, book club, card games and worship services.