Every teenager counts down to the day they can begin driving, because it means they are one step closer to being independent. There isn’t a specific age where we automatically stop driving though. There will surely come a time that we shouldn’t be behind the wheel, and just like many other milestones in life, we don’t always recognize them ourselves.
You can’t ground grandpa from the car
As a teenager, your parents may ground you and take away the keys to keep you from being behind the wheel. As a senior citizen though, nobody is going ground you aside from the DMV or the insurance company. It would be awesome if every senior citizen would regularly monitor their own driving abilities, but that isn’t usually the case for many reasons. As we age, it’s a natural progression for our reflexes to become slower, our vision to deteriorate, and even our hearing to begin fading. All of this together makes it unsafe for a person to be behind the wheel and on the road. If a senior has any type of age-related health condition, like dementia, that adds another concern to the issue
According to a study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers over 75 had the highest proportion of respondents involved in a crash and were more likely to have reported running red lights and driving drowsy. Experts are estimating that by 2020, over 40 million drivers will be 65 or older. Add to that a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that by the age of 70, there is a statistical increase in fatal crashes, and even more so by age 85.
How to have “the keys” conversation with your parent
If you’re in or near your 60s, those facts can be scary. Within 5 years of retirement, you’re considered a hazard on the road. So, how do you approach the conversation with your own parent, or grandparent, that maybe they need to hand over their keys?
- Empathy: Put yourself in their place. Approach the senior with your siblings or other family members, but not in an confrontational way.
- Honesty: Be honest and open, not accusatory. The conversation should between adults, not a child talking to a parent. Start the conversation with words like “We are concerned,” “We care about your safety,” or “We don’t want see you get hurt or hurt somebody else.”
- Encourage the senior to describe their situation using positive language. Help them find their comfort zone to ask for assistance. Once an agreement has been made, offer your support with more than offering them a ride when needed.
- Assist them in setting up a schedule that fits in their activities and combine their trips when they’re getting assistance from a caregiver, family member, or friend.
When is it time to have this conversation?
- Decline in vison: Do they experience trouble with depth perception or have narrowed peripheral vision? Do they have poor speed judgment or night vision? Are they experiencing light sensitivity?
- Decline in hearing: Are they having trouble hearing warning sounds?
- Limited flexibility and mobility: Is their response time slow? Confusion with pedal selection or controlling their steering? Do they have trouble turning their head to check for cars or hazards?
- Chronic health issues: Have they been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea?
- Medications: If they are on several medications, the combinations can result in side effects that are dangerous, risky, and unpredictable.
- Drowsiness: This goes together with their medications.
- Brain impairment / Dementia: These can cause slow reaction time, making it serious to be behind the wheel.
This is a hard time for any of us, no matter how well prepared we may be. Unfortunately, it is often a step we must take as an adult concerned about an adult loved one in our life. In the end, pull your thoughts together, make notes of what you want to cover, and take your time. Be patient and listen to what the senior has to say and take your time to respond with thoughtfulness. Remember – this isn’t easy for them either.
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