9.10.16 How to Know When Your Parent Stops Driving
Good afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today’s topic is “How Do You Know When Your Parent Should Stop Driving.”
According to a survey conducted by the National Safety Council and Caring.com, an online site for baby boomers caring for their parents, adult children would rather talk to their parents about funeral plans than about relinquishing their car keys.
Twenty-five percent of the adult children surveyed said they’d like to see their elderly parents limit their driving. Some 33% favored some form of mandatory testing or restrictions on elderly drivers.
When your father scoffs when you suggest he give up his car—he insists he’s safe because he drives slowly, not very far and not very often—he may have a point. If he’s physically healthy and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, he may not pose a danger to himself or others.
It’s not always easy to tell when your loved one is having difficulty driving. They may not realize that their driving skills are deteriorating or they may not want to acknowledge it. While we all want our parents to maintain their independence as long as possible, don’t wait for an accident to happen before you intervene.
Here’s what you can do:
Take several drives with your parent at the wheel. Observe their driving with an open mind. Do they fasten their seat belt? Are they tense? Are they aware of traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians and the reactions of other motorists? Do they lean forward in their seat and appear worried or preoccupied? Are they often irritated at other drivers? Do they seem particularly tired after driving? If so, they’re probably having some anxiety about driving.
Notice whether your parent is reluctant to drive. For example, they may decline invitations to social events that require them to drive, especially at night. This may be their way of recognizing that they’re aware of their own limitations and they’re taking steps to avoid an accident.
Watch for slowed reaction time. Do they consistently wait too long to respond to traffic lights or other driving cues?
Notice their awareness of their driving environment. Do they tailgate? Do they stay in their own lane or let the car drift close to the median? Do they complain of getting lost more than they used to?
When they’re not with you, walk around the car and look for signs of damage. Everyone’s car gets nicked now and then but does their car have the kind of scratches or dents that could indicate driving mishaps? If so, ask about them.
If you’ve noticed some questionable driving on your parent’s part, ask whether they’ve been ticketed for speeding or other traffic violations. Do this in a neutral, non-accusatory way when they’re not behind the wheel.
If you’re not comfortable asking about tickets, ask if their car insurance has gone up. If their rate has increased, it may be a sign that they’ve had driving infractions.
Check in with trusted friends and neighbors. Don’t wait for them to call you if you’re worried about your parents’ driving. If you don’t live close by, try to identify one or two individuals who’d be willing to keep you informed about your parents’ driving and other safety matters. Contact them regularly and be sure they have your contact information so they can reach you if anything comes up.
Have your parent’s eyes checked regularly. Many older people have vision problems but won’t admit it and they’ll go to great lengths to avoid seeing their eye doctor. Schedule an appointment for them. Reassure your loved one that they may only need new glasses. Seeing the eye doctor doesn’t automatically mean you parent will lose their license. It may just clear up a vision problem and they’ll be back on the road before they know it.
Have their hearing checked regularly. Few of us age without some hearing loss. In fact, one-third of those over 65 have hearing problems. Hearing loss can happen gradually, without your loved one realizing it. It can weaken their ability to hear horns, screeching tires, sirens and other sounds that would normally put someone on high alert.
Have a conversation with your loved one. Ask them if they think they can still manage and are comfortable driving. You might get a suspicious or serious look or an argumentative tone. Stay calm and remember, you’re talking about their independence. Think how you’d feel if someone tried to take away your license. Don’t treat your parents like children. Just find out how they feel about driving. You might be surprised. They may have been waiting for you to ask.
Talk to your parent’s doctor. You may want to enlist the aid of the family doctor to discuss driving with your parent during their next appointment. While your loved one may not want to hear it from you, they’ll listen to their trusted family physician.
Ask about prescription drug interactions. Many drugs can compromise your parent’s driving ability by causing drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, tremors or other side effects. Certain drugs taken in combination also can interact and cause serious problems. If your loved one takes a lot of pills every day, it’s important to educate yourself about each medication and its possible side effects. Even herbal remedies and over-the-counter medications can affect driving ability. Talk to your parent’s doctor and pharmacist about possible drug interactions and side effects.
No one likes losing their independence at any age. When safety issues are at stake, however, you may have to accept the fact that your parents can no longer drive by themselves. Enlist all the help and support you can get if and when that decision needs to be made.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope this information was helpful.
Join me next time for more Demystifying Alzheimer’s.