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How To Talk About Senior Driving

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Recently, I was asked by a client’s family for advice on how to tackle one of the most dreaded conversations a person can have with their aging parent.

“Dad, we need to talk about your driving.”

This is not the first time I have been asked this question. In our culture, driving is a symbol of freedom and independence. The moment when a senior must consider the possibility of surrendering that aspect of themselves is one no one eagerly anticipates.

There are certain physical realities of aging which cannot be avoided. Being uninformed about the natural aging process is likely one of the reasons this conversation can be so daunting.

  • As a person ages, their reaction time will naturally slow.
    Quick reflexes and reactions are an important part of being a safe driver. An aging adult’s nervous system transmits signals more slowly which will begin to impair the ability to react to the situations we all face while driving.
  • As a person ages, the eyeball naturally loses flexibility.
    Diminished depth perception and increased difficulty seeing at dawn, dusk and evening might explain some of those unexplainable dents in the fender.
  • As a person ages, their range of motion will naturally decrease.
    Blind spots are hard to check at any age. Couple that difficulty with a neck that doesn’t turn as far as it once did and you have dangerous recipe behind the wheel.

“That’s great information but it doesn’t make this conversation any easier.”

I know. There is no magic bullet that will make this an easy conversation. That being said, there are a number of things you can do to deploy the proverbial airbags before impact.

  1. Start early!
    Far too many families wait to even broach the topic of senior driving until the fourth or fifth time “someone” mysteriously knocks over the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Beginning to have the conversations long before they are necessary allows everyone time to get used to the idea. Additionally, it allows the senior to fully participate in the decision without feeling restrictions have been suddenly thrust upon them by their worried children.
  2. Talk often!
    I always laugh when I hear parents speak about having “the talk” with their children. If only it were as simply as one conversation. The topic of senior driving is similar in that it should be discussed ad nauseum. I blame the Hallmark Channel for creating the perception of an “intervention” style confrontation to take Mom or Dad’s keys away. We openly harassed my grandfather for years before he finally stopped driving. If memory serves, one year for Christmas he received a t-shirt on which his name was proudly emblazoned with a dictionary-ish caption. “Leonard: (n) he who hunts with Cadillac”
  3. It isn’t a zero sum game!
    Driving doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. There are a multitude of options available to seniors to help keep them safe behind the wheel. State of the art technologies will alert a driver who appears to be drifting or if there is something in their blind spot. Some new cars will even park themselves. For others, self-imposed restrictions about driving at night or over long distances can help a senior maintain their independence while still keeping them safe on the road. Don’t come to visit, notice a dent, and immediately put the Lincoln Towncar on Craigslist.

Ultimately, every great outcome must be built on the foundation of a solid relationship. Building and maintaining a relationship with your aging parent will give you the emotional capital you need in order to broach a multitude of sensitive topics. Having a relationship with your aging parents will give you a greater understanding and an empathetic point of view which will naturally color any and all conversations you have about their unique aging experience.


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