When to talk about driving

Plan ahead to help keep older drivers independent and safe on the road

A new scratch on the bumper or avoiding activities that require leaving home are often the first signs that families should talk with their aging parents about driving. Unfortunately, those conversations are not happening enough, according to a press statement by Home Instead, Inc.

The May 17 press statement outlines results of a new survey by the franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care network of offices that provide in-home care services to seniors. The survey found that 95 percent of the surveyed seniors have not talked to their loved ones about driving, though nearly one-third (31 percent) said that a recommendation from family or friends that they transition from driving would make them reconsider driving.

“As adults, we don’t hesitate to talk to our teenage children about driving, but when we need to address concerns with our own parents, we drop the ball,” said Elin Schold Davis, occupational therapist and project coordinator for the Older Driver Initiative of the American Occupational Therapy Association. “We know that discussing driving with aging loved ones reduces their discomfort around limiting or stopping their driving. Often, families just need to know how to start the dialogue.”

For many seniors, the idea of giving up driving sparks feelings of anger, anxiety and loneliness. To help families navigate these sensitive conversations about driving cessation, the Home Instead Senior Care network has launched a new public education program, “Let’s Talk About Driving,” available at http://www.LetsTalkAboutDriving.com.

The new program offers free resources and tips to help families build a roadmap, together with their senior loved one, for limiting or stopping driving when the time is right. These resources include an interactive Safe Driving Planner to help families assess their senior loved one’s driving habits and provide tools to help older adults drive safely,  consider options for driving reduction or cessation, and identify alternative transportation options.

“The ability to drive gives seniors the freedom to do what they want, when they want—and we want to respect that independence,” said Stacee Frost Kleinsmith in the press statement. Frost Kleinsmith is the franchise owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Anchorage. “Proactively talking about driving with seniors allows them to take an active role in deciding when and why their driving should be reduced or eliminated, while keeping Anchorage area families safe on the road.”

According to the Home Instead press statement, its survey found that nearly 90 percent of aging adults rely on their cars and driving to stay independent. Though many seniors 70 and older are able to drive safely into their later years, it is critical for families to have a plan in place before a medical or cognitive condition makes it no longer safe for their senior loved one to get behind the wheel.

“Physical and cognitive changes, such as those caused by Alzheimer’s disease, changes in vision or medication usage, can put older adults in jeopardy on the road,” Schold Davis said in the press statement. “Many drivers can continue to drive safely as they get older, but it’s important for families to work with their loved ones to create a roadmap that explores new technologies and solutions, while planning ahead. The solution may not be to stop driving completely, but could include adding senior-friendly safety features to the car or taking a safety class.”

Family caregivers can look for several potential warning signs that their senior may be losing the confidence or ability to drive (see “Warning Signs” below).

“We often receive calls from families after an incident occurs behind the wheel. This may be a sign their loved one needs assistance maintaining their independence in and outside of the home,” explains Frost Kleinsmith in the press statement. “Our hope is that by having these discussions and knowing the potential warning signs in advance, we can help ensure seniors and their families stay safe and independent on their terms.”

To access the Safe Driving Planner, or to view other program resources and tips, visit http://www.LetsTalkAboutDriving.com.

Warning signs of an unsafe driver

Mysterious dents. If an older adult can’t explain what happened to his or her car, or you notice multiple instances of damage, further investigation is needed to understand if there’s been a change in their driving abilities.

Trouble turning to see when backing up. Aging may compromise mobility and impact important movements needed to drive safely. Fortunately, newer vehicles offer back-up cameras and assistive technologies that can help older adults continue to drive safely.

Confusing the gas and brake pedals. Dementia can lead to a senior being confused about how his or her car operates.

Increased irritation and agitation when driving. Poor health or chronic pain can trigger increased agitation that may, in turn, lead to poor judgment on the road.

Bad calls on left-hand turns. Turning left can be tricky and dangerous for older drivers, and many accidents occur where there is an unprotected left turn (no turning arrow).

Parking gone awry. Difficulty parking, including parallel parking, could cause damage to an older adult’s vehicle as well as to those around it.

Difficulty staying within the lanes. If you’ve spotted a driver zigzagging along the road, it could be a sign that fatigue or vision problems are making it difficult to stay on course.

Delayed reaction and response time. Aging slows response times, which may create a situation where an older adult may cause an accident or be unable to respond quickly enough to prevent a crash.

Driving the wrong speed. Driving too fast or too slow may be indicators that a driver’s judgment may be impaired.

Riding the brake. Riding the brake could be a sign that a driver no longer has confidence in his or her skills.

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