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  • Writer's pictureHope Aging Care

The Driving Dilemma: Is it Time to Take Away the Keys?

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The ability and freedom to drive means so much more than getting from one place to another. Driving is such a huge part of most people’s adult lives and allows individuals the access to go anywhere they chose; whenever they chose. Taking away the car keys is a challenging and often avoided conversation.

Too often I have met with families that complain about their aging parents driving and their concerns that sometime soon they will get in to an accident. This has got to be one of the hardest conversations to have with a loved one. It is better to come from a family member than a judge. As a Life Care Manager, I can come in and help determine if driving is something to reconsider but overall it is always best that this topic of discussion come from someone the driver knows well. Someone they trust. Below are some quick tips on how to approach the topic, reasons to consider opening the discussion, and some alternative modes of transportation that will help bridge the gap for the individual losing their ability to drive.

I recommend for anyone considering having this conversation to always try to put themselves in the other persons shoes. Seriously, how would you cope without your license or ability to drive a car? How much of your day-to-day life would change? I know the thought of not driving anymore is scary for most of us. There is no way that I would want to take the bus. Could I really take an Uber to everywhere I need to go? How much of a burden would I cause to my family if they had to begin driving me to appointments and errands? Being empathetic and understanding during the discussion is key to success.

Make sure to speak with other family members before the discussion with the individual to have solutions on place for them. This can help calm their fears and provide a solution-based approach. However, make sure to include them in the solutions as well. At no point do you want them to feel attacked or left out of this life-changing situation. Just stay positive and help your loved one do the same.

For some people they live in a very scheduled world. This can make the situation easier. If your loved one is a “scheduler” then planning out trips, errands etc. can be an easy solution to this change. However, for many of us, we are not living on a fully regimented scheduled life. In this situation, get the family involved if possible. Split up the responsibility of who will be “on-call” to help the loved one in more urgent situations. For many families an ongoing group text works well in keeping the communication open.

So what are some reasons to think about no longer driving?

1. Mobility changes. With certain chronic conditions mobility changes can make it challenging to drive with the needed flexibility and control to avoid road hazards. Issues such as turning your head to back-up and lifting your foot from the brake to gas can be challenging. Even the ability to properly grip the steering wheel can be challenging and make driving risky.

2. Changes in Vision and Hearing. Nighttime driving is increasingly difficult for many people with visual changes as they age. Issues with the way the eye focuses with glare from the sun or at night can cause concern with driving. Other visual issues include narrowing peripheral vision and decreased depth perception. This can lead to drivers not being able to tell how far or close other vehicles, pedestrians and road signs are to them. Thus, bumping in to curbs, swerving across lanes and even missing turns. Hearing can also be a challenge causing individuals to miss the sounds of sirens and horns leading to an increased risk of an accident happening.

3. Cognitive Impairment. This is a real struggle for many families. And makes the topic much more challenging than with family members who do not suffer from cognitive changes or memory loss. A dementia diagnosis or even MCI diagnosis should immediately usher in the need to plan for a change in driving status. Individuals may get lost more frequently, have increased difficulty understanding street signs or freeways. They can become confused over multi-lane streets, pedestrians entering the roadway, and even the mechanisms within the car and how the car operates. The struggle here is that the person might not have the ability to understand the family’s reason for asking them to stop driving. Possibly, they don’t even accept their dementia diagnosis.

What do we do if the individual REFUSES to understand any form of reasoning?

To begin with, talk with their doctor. In many circumstances a medical doctor will be receptive to this needed change and agree to notify the DMV of the driving status change. If a doctor is not helpful the family can also send a request to the DMV to have the individual re-tested. This can be done by filling out and submitting the Request for Driver Re-Examination (Form DS 699) for California residents. This can often be done anonymously so the relationship is not put in jeopardy.

Next, be supportive throughout the reexamination process. There is no point in adding to the individual’s stress and anxiety during this time. It is better to be supportive and allow them to go through the process with the DMV.

What are some other ways to get around and accomplish tasks if your license is taken away?

1. Many senior centers offer transportation from the individual’s residence to the center for activities, classes, and meals. The cost is typically low, and the busses run most days of the week. Many senior centers also have transportation groups, where one individual assists with picking up and dropping off other people attending the same class or function as they are. Talk to the social services director at your local center for these types of options.

2. Here in Orange County we have Access Senior Transportation. Other areas also have “Dial-a-taxi” which provide scheduled local transportation for the aging and disabled.

3. Uber, Lyft and GoGo Grandparent offer quick affordable options. What I love about Go Go Grandparent is that it can be ordered over the telephone and not just through an ap (which not everyone can easily operate). Further, the service sends alerts to family members to keep them informed as well.

4. Check with the individual’s medical insurance. Many Medicare supplemental plans offer a certain number of car rides to/from medical appointments each calendar year.

5. As mentioned above, try to schedule things out so family members can help. For things like prescriptions and groceries. Sometimes it can easy just to have such items delivered if in a pinch.

6. Hire a caregiver to help with tasks inside and outside the home.

Ultimately, there are options. It is possible to make this transition without breaking the bank and causing your family member to lose their autonomy.

If you or a family member is struggling with this decision, we are here to help.

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