One of the hardest conversations you’ll have with an aging parent is when the time comes to give up the car keys.
Transportation is independence.
Almost every aspect of adult life till now has required getting behind the wheel. Historically you have needed transport to buy groceries, take clothes to the dry cleaners, and attend doctors appointments. Without a car, visiting with friends and tending to spiritual needs can feel almost impossible.
But if your loved one has become a distracted driver, endangering themselves and others, it’s time to have that difficult talk.
Sooner rather than later.
Start talking about it before the situation becomes a crisis. As soon as the warning signs start, even if they are mild, gently point out what you notice. Introduce the notion that, at some point, the time to stop driving will come.
Here are some ideas of how to gently bring up your concerns.
- “I noticed you ran that new stop sign at the end of the street when you took me to dinner tonight. I wanted to remind you that they installed it so you’ll see it next time”
- “I know you said that the beeps in your car drive you crazy, but those beeps are designed to show you when you are crossing out of your lane. Is it hard for you to see the lines?”
- “I am glad to know that your new diagnosis of Macular Degeneration is expected to be slow-moving, but I wonder if we start thinking about how we will get around in the future when you are not able to drive safely”.
- “I noticed you had a scratch on the back of your bumper, do you know how you got it?”
Take it easy.
Ease into the situation. Encourage a parent to stop driving at night or in bad weather, and plan only short trips. Setting limitations early will help lessen the drama when it’s finally time to put away the keys.
Seeing it from the other side.
Talk about the risks that driving poses to other people. Aside from causing harm to themselves, driving also increases the chance of a wreck. Firstly, this could cause harm to someone else. On top of that it could create legal problems that could endanger their retirement savings.
Being the messenger.
When it’s clear that a parent should stop driving, a close relative will usually have to deliver the bad news. Be prepared to face their anger and resentment. Help to soften those hard feelings by offering some alternatives to prove that relinquishing those car keys doesn’t mean a reduction in quality of life.
You can also use an appointment with their primary care doctor as an opportunity to bring up this tricky subject. If you accompany your loved one to a doctor’s visit, you can ask a question about driving. It can be easier to hear this news from a “professional”, and doctors are often happy to play the role of “bad guy”.
Life After Driving
Set up a schedule with family and friends to offer rides covering all of your loved one’s needs. One person may be in charge of trips to the grocery store. Another may take your parent to church. A third is responsible for medical appointments. Many new hands behind the wheel will show your parent that there is an army of people who care about them.
We are lucky to live in a world of fast online shopping! Take advantage of services that will deliver. Many grocery stores offer both shopping and delivery, and online shopping options for clothing, electronics, and even furniture are everywhere.
Learn your local options.
Investigate transportation services provided by the county, local nonprofits that focus on the elderly, and churches. These services offer low-cost alternatives to public transportation, which can be difficult and confusing for a senior to navigate. Also take advantage of Eldercare Locator, (https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx) a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that lists services for older adults, including transportation.
Uber for Grandma!
Consider using ride-on-demand services such as Lyft (www.lyft.com) and Uber (www.uber.com). Both companies offer senior-focused programs. Other services such as GoGoGrandparent (www.gogograndparent.com) and Access Ride (Google your local Access Ride service) also serve seniors with transportation issues.
Staying connected is key.
Making sure that seniors remain mobile, even if their driving days are over, is essential to their well-being and longevity.
A study by the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, funded with a $1 million grant by the AARP Foundation, found that providing free Lyft rides to seniors improved their quality of life by 90%. They were more likely to travel to medical appointments and, almost as importantly, to socialize with friends. An added bonus was that 97% of seniors reported being more comfortable with their smartphones after using them to book their Lyft rides.
Loving the new normal.
By respectfully preparing your loved one for the end of their driving days, and offering great alternatives for transportation, you can help them see there is a “new normal” that will offer both independence and a sense of well-being.