A new scratch on the bumper or avoiding activities that require leaving home are often the first signs that families should talk with their aging parents about driving. Unfortunately, those conversations are not happening enough.
A new survey1 by Home Instead Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network of franchise offices that provide in-home care services to seniors, found that 95 percent of the surveyed seniors have not talked to their loved ones about driving, though nearly one-third (31 percent) said that a recommendation from family or friends that they transition from driving would make them reconsider driving.
"As adults, we don't hesitate to talk to our teenage children about driving, but when we need to address concerns with our own parents, we drop the ball," said Elin Schold Davis, occupational therapist and project coordinator for the Older Drive Initiative of the American Occupational Therapy Association. "We know that discussing driving with aging loved ones reduces their discomfort around limiting or stopping their driving. Often, families just need to know how to start the dialogue."
For many seniors, the idea of giving up driving sparks feelings of anger, anxiety and loneliness. To help families navigate these sensitive conversations about driving cessation, Home Instead Senior Care has launched a new public education program, Let's Talk About DrivingSM, available at www.LetsTalkAboutDriving.com. The new program offers free resources and tips to help families build a roadmap, together with their senior loved one, for limiting or stopping driving when the time is right. These resources include an interactive Safe Driving Planner to help families assess their senior loved one's driving habits and provide tools to help older adults drive safely, consider options for driving reduction or cessation, and identify alternative transportation options.
"The ability to drive gives seniors the freedom to do what they want, when they want—and we want to respect that independence," said Roberta Karch, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving the Greater Culpeper region. "Proactively talking about driving with seniors allows them to take an active role in deciding when and why their driving should be reduced or eliminated, while keeping area families safe on the road."
Nearly 90 percent of aging adults rely on their cars and driving to stay independent, according to the survey. Though many seniors 70 and older are able to drive safely into their later years, it is critical for families to have a plan in place before a medical or cognitive condition makes it no longer safe for their senior loved one to get behind the wheel.
"Physical and cognitive changes, such as those caused by Alzheimer's disease, changes in vision or medication usage, can put older adults in jeopardy on the road," added Schold Davis. "Many drivers can continue to drive safely as they get older, but it's important for families to work with their loved ones to create a roadmap that explores new technologies and solutions, while planning ahead. The solution may not be to stop driving completely, but could include adding senior-friendly safety features to the car or taking a safety class."
Family caregivers can look for several potential warning signs that their senior may be losing the confidence or ability to drive, such as unexplained dents, trouble turning to see when backing up, increased agitation while driving, and riding the brake.
"We often receive calls from families after an incident occurs behind the wheel. This may be a sign their loved one needs assistance maintaining their independence in and outside of the home," explains Karch. "Our hope is that by having these discussions and knowing the potential warning signs in advance, we can help ensure seniors and their families stay safe and independent on their terms."
To access the Safe Driving Planner, or to view other program resources and tips, visit www.LetsTalkAboutDriving.com. Or, call us today at 540-825-7180 to learn how family caregivers can help seniors plan ahead for driving cessation.
 Braun Research completed telephone interviews with a random sample of 600 North American seniors in the United States and Canada to identify their perceptions and habits regarding driving and driving cessation. Only seniors aged 70 and older who had a valid driver's license and continued to drive, or are former drivers, were interviewed. The research was conducted on behalf of Home Instead, Inc.
Home Instead offers free monthly newsletters with tips and advice for caregivers of elderly loved ones.
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