You’ve seen danger in your elderly parent’s driving. So what do you do?
Ride along with them, says Susan Watters, ORT, an occupational therapist who performs driving assessments in the Seattle area. A suggestion from AARP: Keep a dated notebook with written observations of safety issues. Don’t underreact or overreact. Over time, you may notice some patterns.
Minor Warning Signs (the following may indicate a need to limit driving)
· Driving over curves
· Difficulty with left turns
· Incomplete turn signal
· Scrapes on the car
· Decreased confidence
Serious Warning Signs (signals a need to stop driving)
· Failure to stop at a signal or red light.
· Confusing gas and brake pedals.
· Getting lost in familiar places.
· Confusion at highway exits.
It may be time to talk. But how do you discuss limiting or stopping driving with your parent or loved one?
It takes sensitivity and grace, realizing that you may experience fear or even anger at the idea of the talk. Those emotions are normal.
First, realize that the “talk” is better done in small doses periodically, as issues come up. Also realize that for many people driving is simply a way to get places, while for others, it’s part of their identity. According to Hartford and MIT Age Lab, 26% of older respondents felt sad or depressed after conversations about giving up driving. Other common concerns were becoming socially isolated and becoming a burden on family and others.
When you speak to your parent about driving issues, try to use empathy and understanding.
For example, your mother may say, “I really don’t like driving at night.” You may respond with, “I understand your concern. Can you tell me more? Would you like me to ride along with you to see if you feel safer?” Another example, “I noticed that you ran a red light. I’m worried that you might hurt yourself or someone else.”
Help From the Pros
Many parents will prefer asking a medical professional to join in discussing safe driving. If you need outside help in help in evaluating safety, here are some steps to take.
1. Take your parent to his or her physician, and discuss the specific concerns you have noticed. You might want to notify the doctor ahead of time that you want to discuss driving issues. At the appointment, ask the doctor to refer your parent to an occupational therapist for a driving assessment. Medicare will cover the assessment.
A According to Susan Watters, a driving assessment takes a total of between two and four hours in multiple appointments. It tests three areas essential to safe driving: visual, physical, and cognitive. The visual part looks for disease including cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. In the physical area, range of motion is important as is reaction time. Both can be affected by diseases including stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease. The cognitive screening measures areas including depth perception, memory, and mental alertness. A road driving test can be added if needed.
2. Watters also suggests as “homework” certain activities to boost cognition, which is so important to driving. Those include Sudoku, crossword puzzles, video games, walking faster than usual, and games that require categorization.
3. Another source of general information is the AARP Smart Driver online course. Your parent can take it at their leisure. It’s approved as a Senior Driver accident prevention course in many states. After completing the course seniors may be eligible for an appropriate reduction in car insurance. Please check with your insurance company for details.
As a last resort, if your parent insists on driving when heavily impaired physically or cognitively, in most states you can contact the Department of Licensing.
Your parent may be required to submit a signed statement from a doctor, or take a driver’s test before renewing his license or both. Many states have shorter license renewal periods for seniors.
Hopefully this information will help. Fortunately, alternate transportation options are growing, in the event that your parent can no longer drive.