By Carolyn Rosenblatt
In the 29 years I handled personal injury cases, most of them were car accidents. I represented injured people hundreds of times. When the victim was hit by an elder or older driver who should never have been driving, I always wondered why no one had taken the car keys away. Where were the adult children as elderly aging parents began to lose the ability to safely operate a car?
If we're talking about your Mom or Dad, and you've noticed that he or she just isn't safe behind the wheel anymore, I would like to encourage you to get involved. Most older individuals who are losing their ability to drive safely don't recognize it or are in denial and do not wish to face the terrible thought of giving up their independence and control. Loss of the ability to drive a car is often a life changing event, as the elder can no longer maintain their own care at home without transportation.
Denial is a very common reaction to the early warning signs of becoming a dangerous older driver. This can occur both among the elderly, who really, really don't want to have this privilege taken from them, and in their adult children, who then have to deal with the consequences of Mom or Dad needing alternate forms of transportation.
If this is happening with your aging parents(s), try these tips to handle this emotionally charged and difficult issue.
Tips for Dealing with a Dangerous Elderly Driver
- Approach the subject respectfully and at the best time of day for your parent. Ask if it's ok to talk about this now.
- Bring up the issue of driving while you express care and concern for how difficult it must be to even talk about it, but gently insist if your parent resists the subject.
- Encourage your elderly parent to see a doctor to find out what physical problems could be going on. Some people need a change in medication or other health care treatment to correct alertness, vision, or ability to attend to detail in driving. Go with him or her to the doctor if you can.
- If the doctor concurs that your aging parent should give up the keys, use the doctor as the reason for bringing up the subject and the reason for suggesting limiting or giving up driving.
- Research alternative kinds of transportation where your parent lives. If you are in a rural area, there may be limited options, but family members, neighbors, or church or synagogue members may be willing to help. Public transportation may be a good alternative in urban areas, even if your elderly parent has not used it before.
The subject of driving is always a "charged" one. Do your best to approach your loved one with understanding, but don't be afraid to stand your ground.
Carolyn Rosenblatt is a registered nurse and attorney who has 40 years of experience. She is the author of "The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents."