Making the life-changing decision to “give up the keys” and stop driving a vehicle for the remainder of your life is certainly a difficult decision. Being able to drive is a freedom that has likely been enjoyed for a majority of an older adult’s life and taking that away can lead to isolation and dependency. However, when a driver is impaired physically and/or cognitively, operation of a vehicle can be very dangerous to the driver and those around them in their community. While discussions around this decision can be tense, it is imperative that caregivers (typically adult children and spouses) recognize the warning signs of unsafe driving of a loved one.
Warning signs include difficulty with necessary driving procedures such as moving the foot from gas pedal to brake pedal, and turning the head toward the back window while driving in reverse. Other warning signs occur when cognitive changes are a factor. Increased confusion, instances of getting lost, and lack of confidence while driving are signs that an older adult should give up their keys.
But how can families approach the conversation with their loved one about taking this step? It is important that the family members who initiate these conversations have a good understanding of their loved one’s physical and cognitive limitations. Conversations should be ongoing and proactive. Family members need to take the time to learn about where their loved one likes to drive in the car so that they can thoughtfully address their needs while finding a safer alternative.
One online tool is a document called the “Agreement with My Family about Driving.” Found in a guidebook from The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence called “At the Crossroads: Family Conversations about Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia & Driving,” this document can be used to address the decision before a time of crisis. Upon diagnosis of dementia, the patient should be involved in the discussions about when he or she feels a loved one should intervene. This approach is intended to remove the pressure put on concerned family members to react to their loved one’s changes in condition.
Often, despite a close relationship with loved ones, an older adult may respond more agreeably to a third party professional such as their physician or attorney. Formal driving assessments can also be completed so that a third party professional can weigh in on a driver’s abilities behind the wheel.
To find the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence guidebooks which focus on driving wellness, evaluations, and conversations, visit https://www.thehartford.com/resources/mature-market-excellence/publications-on-aging.
Another resource is the AARP Driving Resource Center. To access this, visit http://www.aarp.org/home-family/getting-around/driving-resource-center/giving-up-the-keys-driver-safety/. The National Caregivers library also has a variety of checklists for considerations of driving and mobility. They offer an excellent resource called “Driving Assessment Checklist” which can be found at http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/Portals/0/Transportation_DrivingAssessmentChecklist.pdf.
At Weatherby & Associates, PC, our life care coordinator is a trusted advisor who works alongside the legal staff to help ensure that our clients are living safely and thriving. We are committed to helping families with ongoing conversations and decisions about driving. We know that change can be difficult and we are here to help make life’s transitions a bit smoother. For more on our offerings, call our office at 860-769-6938.