You may have wonderful memories of your parents teaching you to drive all those years ago.
It’s a rite of passage for many of us – parents sitting beside us, cringing as we took corners too fast, couldn’t find the blinker, or simply driving straight through that red light! But, now as the family caregiver of an aging parent, perhaps you’ve started to notice that her driving is not what it used to be. Maybe you no longer feel safe having your child ride with Grandma on the freeway or letting Grandpa drive at night.
While age alone does not mean your parent has become an unsafe driver, you will want to look for the following signs to see if you need to begin to have a conversation about restricted driving or possibly not driving at all anymore.
-Having lots of dings, scrapes, and/or dents on your parent’s vehicle. Do you notice bumpers and corners of the vehicle having more damage than before? If you ask your parent about it, is she evasive or unsure how it even got there? Some scrapes can definitely happen while a car is parked in the parking lot, but lots of new damage, without any clear memory of how it got there, can be indicative of your parent having a harder time with distance judgment while driving.
-Having too many close calls. If you’ve been riding along with your parent, are you noticing a lot of honking from other drivers as he pulls out in front of them? Do your kids tell you that Grandpa is stopping much too quickly at the lights or forgets to look for the train at the train tracks? We all have close calls occasionally, but when each drive results in a close call, the odds are that one day soon, it might not just be a close call.
-Driving too fast or too slowly. An aging parent may begin to forget what the speed limit is and thus drive much too fast in a school zone or merge onto a freeway lane much too slowly. Both situations can prove to be very dangerous, not only to your parent but the other drivers on the road.
-Getting lost in familiar places. If your parent has lived in the same home for decades and visiting the same pet groomer since she’s had her 12-yr-old poodle, but now can’t find the street to turn on to get to the groomers shop, it might be time to consider how safe it is to have her drive at all. A simple trip to buy milk and bread could turn treacherous for a disoriented senior.
-Struggling to maintain a conversation while driving. If asking a simple question of your aging parent while he is driving causes your parent to cruise straight through a stop sign that’s always been on that corner, you might have cause for alarm. Driving requires the ability to do multiple things at once and distracted driving is the cause of many accidents.
While a conversation about driving privileges with a parent is most likely going to be hard, don’t wait until something serious has happened to begin the conversation. As a caregiver who truly cares about your aging parent, you’ll want to enter this conversation early with grace and respect, understanding that the fear of losing independence is sometimes higher than the fear of getting lost or having a close call. Come into the conversation with empathy, understanding, and some transportation alternatives that will give you all peace of mind.
One great option to bring to the table is looking at hiring a home care professional to help with any transportation needs your parent may have. This will help your parent keep some of his independence while also providing a safe solution on the roadways.