There are more than 30 million people over the age of 65 who are licensed to drive in the United States. Those 30 million senior drivers made up 14 percent of the total number of all car related fatalities in 2006. 14 percent. That is an alarming number, and it makes the need to address senior drivers even more urgent.
Talking to a loved one about senior driver safety can be a very difficult topic to broach, and so it often gets put off, procrastinated. But think how would you feel if the delay led to a serious car accident.
Realizing the possible consequences should help overcome some hesitation, but it still doesn't mean it will be an easy conversation; telling someone that they can't perform a basic task that they have done all their life, that they will be losing some of their independence, is never easy.
But it is a difficult conversation that must be had once there is concern about the safety of an older driver, especially because you don't want to wait until it is too late. Armed with the understanding that there is a tough process ahead, there are a few steps you can take to make it go as smoothly as possible.
1. Plan Ahead
This is the most important step you can take to ensure that the conversation doesn't spin off in to a heated debate, or end with feelings hurt. Know the points you want to make and be empathetic - try to imagine how it must feel to be in their shoes.
Set realistic expectations for how the conversation will go, and realize that you might have to revisit the subject later on. It might also be helpful to give up your own car for a few days or weeks to show that you are committed to helping and understanding what they are going through.
2. Bringing it up Initially
Once you have planned out what you want to say, it is best to broach the subject gently. Even though you might feel like it is an obvious decision and therefore want to be blunt about it, you must remember that the driver is likely going through some emotional internal struggles, and it is best to take a sensitive approach.
If their driving has become erratic or scary enough for you to take notice, they likely notice themselves and will be willing to listen. Try prefacing the conversation with a question about how they are feeling about driving or if they are finding it hard to manage. However, if they become angry and defensive, it is best to drop the conversation for now and try bringing it up again later rather than battling and likely not making any progress.
3. Practice Reflective Listening
You must be ready for some inevitable objections. It is natural to wonder how you will go about your daily life without a means of transportation - How will I get to my appointments? How will I get to the store for groceries? However, instead of answering questions like this with a quick dismissal that they will all work out just fine, or jumping to a conclusion that a friend will be glad to help, try reflective listening instead.
Reflective listening is a technique to turn the question back on itself, which results in an engaged conversation and promotes discussion and reflection, an important step to working through major transitions.
4. Don't Rush the Conversation
This conversation is likely to bring up many emotions and could easily turn in to a trip down memory lane. But this is perfectly fine and you actually encourage it, as reminiscing could help come to terms with life transitions. However, some point in the conversation you should pose the question about what he or she thinks is best to do about driving. This should help them reflect on possible consequences and consider the best option for themselves.
Don't be afraid to suggest a break. Once you have had an initial discussion and gotten your points out there, give some time to let them marinate and suggest you all get back together in a few days.
5. Address any Issues that could be Affecting the Driver
If the person you are talking to admits that they are having trouble driving, it is worth checking to see if an underlying medical issue could be the cause. Make appointments with their physicians, and eye and ear specialists. Be sure to ask about medications they are taking and potential side effects, as it is possible that lowering a dose or changing a medication could fix the problem.
Once you speak to the doctors, you will have a better idea about when and if it is safe for them to be driving. If they get the clear from their doctors, it is a good idea to brush up on traffic laws and safe driving tips with them, possibly even take them on a few practice drives to make sure they feel comfortable. If it really is time to give up driving all together, help them find other reliable transportation options, and even ride the bus or train with them to make sure they are comfortable.
6. Be Proactive
Once you have had the discussion and you all have come to an agreement that it is time to hang up the keys, there are ways that you can be proactive to help ease the transition.
Make sure that you keep them connected. Start making it a habit to drop by their house and check in, even if it is just for a quick chat to keep them in the loop. Be sure to include them in family activities and outings. Also be sure that you offer to drive them to activities they enjoy, and urge them to connect with any friends who can drive. Suggest that they reciprocate in some way by cooking these friends dinner or inviting them over for tea.
You can also suggest other means of getting around. Ride public transportation with them and print out a schedule and map to make it accessible. Also try introducing them to new hobbies and activities that don't require them to leave the house, such as gardening, bird watching or walking the neighborhood.
Ultimately remember that you are a very important part of their lives, and your opinion and support matters. So keep trying if you don't succeed at first, and once they finally hang up the keys remember to be supportive and caring. Your presence and dedication can ease the transition and help ensure that your loved ones do not become just another statistic for car related fatalities.
At American In-Home Care, we always refer qualified, screened, care providers that can assist you with your in-home care needs, including transfers into and out of vehicles, and transportation. Contact a Client Care Liaison at any time to set up a free assessment of your in-home care needs; they can provide you with additional information about which care options are right for you and your family. We are available to take calls 24/7 at 1-844-505-0004.
Senior Driver Safety, 24 Hour In Home Care