Preparing to talk to older adults about driving

Relatives, friends and caregivers can help older adults transition from “driver” to “passenger.”

Older adults today are driving into their later years and they’re driving more miles than older adults have in the past. According to Michigan’s Guide for Aging Drivers and their Families, “older adults can expect to outlive their ability to drive safely by seven to 10 years.” This presents a distinct opportunity, and challenge, for all those who care for older drivers, including family members, caregivers and friends.

Before beginning the conversation with an older driver, it is important that everyone understands the signs and symptoms that indicate there may be driving problems. Some of these signs include decreased confidence while driving, difficulty turning to see when backing up, increased agitation or irritation when driving, delayed responses and confusing the gas and brake pedals. Physical signs include scrapes or dents on the car and ticketed moving violations. Before confronting an older driver, however, be sure that your concerns are based on a pattern of activity rather than an isolated incident.

The ability to drive may have many meanings for the older adult, not the least of which may be independence. Consider how you will begin the conversation as well as what the ultimate outcome of the conversation might be. Will driving be curtailed altogether? Limited to daylight hours? Are there alternate options for transportation available? Think about whether you and others are willing to provide transportation if there are limited options available in the older adult’s community.

There are resources to help you with this conversation. The Hartford website contains a wealth of information about how to prepare for and initiate these potentially difficult conversations. AARP offers a free online seminar called We Need to Talk. This self-paced seminar provides the tools you need to start assessing the older driver’s skills as well as help in starting the conversation. Read Michigan State University Extension’s article titled Aging adults and drivers safety.

Patience may be your best tool during this time. The resolution will come over time, not just after one conversation. You may be faced with negative reactions during early conversations, but don’t let them discourage you from continuing to work on a resolution. Don’t be afraid to share your genuine concerns for the older driver’s safety, and be sure to acknowledge his or her need for mobility and independence. Most older drivers will go along with a plan to stop or curtail driving if the subject is handled in a patient, caring way.

A driving skills assessment may help in determining if an older driver’s visual, physical or mental condition might be affecting his or her ability to drive safely. The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists and the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., may be able to help. The State of Michigan has a list of State Rehabilitation Agencies and Resources that may also be of assistance.

The conversations you have with older drivers about their ability to drive will go more smoothly with some advance preparation.

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