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The Aging Parent Driving Dilemma

Warning signs that your parent is too old to drive 

Driving for most of us represents freedom, independence and control and allows us to go where we want to and have the experiences we would liketo have.  But driving is a sophisticated skill which required complex cognitive functioning. It's important that your begin a dialogue with your parent about driving. However,  as long as your aging parent is capable of driving safely and has not exhibited any difficulty in driving, he or she should be able to continue driving. Currently, there are 30 million drivers over the age 65 in the United States.

Signs that signify concern

There are certain signs that you may need to consider approaching your aging parent about their driving ability. If your parent has recently had a significant change in health (a stroke, neurological complications, or other medical complications to driving), or if he or she has had a decrease in vision or developed symptoms of macular degeneration, you may need to step in. If you are concerned that your aging parent may be too old to drive safely, there are ways you can help.

"Driving is symbolic of freedom and independence, and that is very difficult for any person to give up."

The first thing you should understand is that your aging parent may not react very positively to the subject. Driving is symbolic of freedom and independence, and that is very difficult for any person to give up. Relying on someone to always drive you to your appointments – and feeling trapped when no one is there to take you when you want to go shopping on a whim or need something right away – can be exceedingly frustrating. Be understanding if your parent becomes angry or frustrated when you talk about his or her not being able to drive safely.

If your parent is resistant, you can suggest having him or her evaluated by driver rehabilitation specialist who has special training in assessing driving skills. Not only are visual problems of concern, cognitive problems can also be equally dangerous. The specialist can give your parent an on- and off-road tests and provide an objective assessment about the safety of your parent on the road. You can find a listing of these specialists here.

Approaching your aging parent about driving

Let your aging parent know how worried you are for his or her safety. If your parent has a close call behind the wheel or starts taking a medication that can affect the ability to drive, use it as an opportunity to bring up the conversation. Don't let guilt prevent you from speaking; the alternative – the likelihood of a possibly fatal accident – should be enough motivation. According to The Hartford Insurance Company, a small percentage of aging parents who were confronted about stopping driving were even angry; most were sad and worried about not being able to get out of the house when they wanted to. The fear is that they will not be able to get out and socialize, that they will become a burden, or that they will be forced to become dependent upon someone else.

You can reassure your aging parent that not driving is the right choice. Recognize that it is not a perfect solution, but that your concern is for your parent's safety. Help out by going together to learn how to ride the bus; practice going to the places where your aging parent would be most likely to go. Most city buses offer discounts to senior riders. If the bus service in your parent's area is not sufficient, offer to provide transportation whenever you can. If you are going to the store, call and see if your parent wants to ride along. Talk to the local eldercare agency about what kind of transportation they provide. The key is to make the transition from driving independence to not driving as easy as possible. In the long run, you may be saving lives.