As people age their reflexes slow and their eyesight and hearing slowly fade. In order to drive safely, we need to be acutely aware of all that is going on around us. We need our hearing as well as our eyesight to be functioning well. If our reflexes are slow, we may not be able to avoid being in traffic accidents. This is why we have to take tests to renew our driver’s licenses. It’s hard to have this discussion with your mom or dad when they are the one who is losing control of these functions.
We feel that we have truly gained our independence the day that we attain our driver’s license. We can go anywhere that we want to go on our own. Your parents were there the day that you got your driving independence and now you must be there for them when they have to give up their driving independence. It’s one of life’s harsh realities. So when do you “have the talk” with them? At what point do you say, “Mom, Dad, I think it’s time you handed over the car keys”?
It doesn’t happen all at once thankfully. There things that your elderly parents can do to help themselves stay on the road as long as possible:
- Get plenty of rest. This will help you to remain alert.
- Take it slow. Some people are tempted to speed no matter what their age, but because the older you get, the more slowly you react, keeping the speed down will allow you more time to react in a potential emergency.
- Get your eyes checked regularly
When your parent has been doing all of the above, yet they have begun to receive more traffic citations than is normal for them or you are hearing more stories about close calls they have had while driving, you may want to begin discussing the possibility of driving less or stopping altogether. There are other red flags, as well:
- Have they had recent trouble seeing signs?
- Do they often “miss” the sign altogether and miss their road or exit?
- Have they experienced neck pain or stiffness that may prevent them from turning to see other cars, bicycles, motorcycles or pedestrians?
- Are they finding it harder to turn the wheel? Have they experienced pain in their limbs that might prevent them from driving safely?
Getting your parent’s input about how well they are driving is part of helping them make the decision to stop. Talking with your parent about this subject can be touchy if they are reluctant to give up their keys. Help them to see that acknowledging and respecting our limitations is advisable anytime, but especially when the safety of others is involved. Help them to feel that they are making an independent decision for their own well-being as well as the well-being of others. Help them explore other modes of travel such as asking a friend for a ride or taking a taxi or the bus or getting in-home care. The important thing about helping your parents through this transition is emphasizing that they are not losing their independence completely. It is just being modified.