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How to Speak with Your Elderly Parent About Giving up Driving

Emotional Wellbeing | February 15, 2024

A senior man having a difficult conversation with his child about when to stop driving in older age.

Driving is more than just going from point a to point b. It’s a representation of independence and the freedom to explore. While many maintain that desire for independence throughout their lives, there comes a time when they are no longer well suited for operating a motor vehicle. 

So, when your aging parent begins to show signs that they are no longer safe behind the wheel, how do you approach them about giving up driving?

Asking them to find alternative travel options won’t be easy, but if you’re concerned your loved one might no longer be able to drive safely – it may be time for a conversation. Let’s take a look at how you can approach your senior parent about giving up driving – and how to make the conversation easier for everyone involved.

When Should Seniors Stop Driving?

There is no consensus on when the responsibility to drive becomes too great, as age alone doesn’t make a driver unsafe. The primary deciding factor is whether your loved one’s ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by certain medical conditions or physical and cognitive declines. If you begin to think that your loved one may no longer be safe behind the wheel, you should consider going on a short test drive in a safe environment such as an open parking lot or quiet neighborhood. This will help you pinpoint specific problems with their driving that can be essential in a future conversation.

If you believe your loved one’s ability to drive has diminished to the point that their presence on the road is dangerous, consider skipping this test for your safety. 

There are several warning signs to look for that may signal it’s time for your elderly parent to hang up their keys, including:

  • They have delayed responses while driving.
  • They get easily lost.
  • They either drive too fast or too slowly.
  • They hit curbs or have frequent close calls.
  • Their car has several noticeable dents and dings.
  • They have trouble focusing or maintaining the correct lane.

If your loved one is experiencing several of these warning signs, you should consider talking with them about their ability to drive safely. But how are you supposed to broach the topic of stopping or limiting driving sensitively so that you can have a productive conversation? Let’s dive into some tips for starting a productive conversation with your senior parent about finding alternative travel options.

Tips for Starting a Conversation about Giving Up Driving

Make a Plan with Your Family

Stepping away from the driver’s seat is a major decision. It’s crucial to consult with your family members about it before you consider broaching the topic with your parent. Working with the rest of your family you can create a list of concerns to make sure you are all on the same page. The more prepared you are, the easier it may be to convince your aging parent to hang up the keys.

You should also consider looping in their primary care doctor to get them on board with this decision. As a trusted medical advisor, they can help get your parent comfortable with the idea of finding alternative transportation options.

Keep in mind that when you are ready to discuss with your parent, you should approach the subject sensitively – avoiding a situation where they feel ganged up on by the entire family. We recommend starting the conversation one-on-one to make sure they feel most comfortable.

Come Prepared with Evidence

You want to be sure to approach difficult conversations with facts and evidence to help clearly express your thoughts and feelings. Before talking to your mom or dad, have facts on hand to help clarify why you think they should hang up their keys. In addition to the warning signs we mentioned above, things to consider include:

  • Medications that affect their ability to drive.
  • Physical limitations such as arthritis.
  • Vision trouble.
  • Poor driving habits.

If your loved one is resistant in the face of evidence, consider recommending them to take a senior driving test provided by your local DMV or AAA.

Start Planning Early

We recommend starting the conversation as soon as you begin to notice the warning signs. You don’t want to wait until something serious happens such as an accident or medical emergency. You should also consider that this might become an ongoing conversation as your parent could be hesitant to relinquish their ability to drive. 

It’s best to start the conversation when the warning signs are still mild. Start small by suggesting that they avoid driving long distances, at night, and during inclement weather. By starting the conversation early, you give yourself more time to reduce the amount your parent is on the road – easing them into the idea of no longer driving.

Lead the Conversation with Empathy

Giving up driving and the independence that comes with it is a radical lifestyle change. When approaching your loved one about this sensitive subject, make sure to consider their perspective. Lead the conversation empathetically and understand that this won’t be easy for them.

Make sure to share your thoughts and evidence from a perspective of concern for their safety and the safety of others on the road. Make sure you are an active listener, taking their input and understanding how they feel.

To ensure the conversation goes as smoothly as possible, speak with compassion and understanding. If you’re met with frustration or denial, be sure to stay calm and keep your emotions in check to ensure you don’t push your loved one away.

Have a Plan in Place After They Give Up Driving

Before your loved one agrees to step away from driving, you will need to have a plan in place to make sure they can stay active and social. Losing independence and being trapped in the house is a major fear for many seniors who are considering hanging up the keys. When discussing this sensitive subject with your loved one, let them know they can still participate in their favorite hobbies, activities, and social events.

Relying on others to attend appointments and social gatherings can often cause our loved ones to feel like a burden. To help ease their mind, make sure to frame the drive to enjoy time together rather than a task or favor. If you have the time and ability, you can always share a meal or grab a cup of coffee to make the outing feel special. 

Depending on your parent’s activity level, meeting their transportation needs may be difficult. We recommend working with family and friends to create a well-rounded schedule to ensure your loved one can keep their independence. If your loved one is particularly active or you are unable to meet their needs, you may want to consider alternative transportation options – including: 

  • Local bus, subway, or trains.
  • Ridesharing apps like Uber.
  • Community-based senior transport services offered by nonprofits and churches.
  • Senior living community transportation services.

Don’t be Afraid to Find Support

Recognizing the warning signs and talking to your aging parent may not be easy. But if you follow these steps, approach empathetically, and create a well-structured plan – the conversation can be productive. When it comes to difficult conversations, don’t be afraid to reach out to the experts. Turn to professionals when your parents are particularly stubborn – physicians, social workers, and other experts can help highlight just how important it is to get help. 

When it comes to finding an expert in senior living, look no further than National Church Residences. We take an individual approach to senior care, offering quality senior living options and long-term care services for seniors to make the most of their golden years. Find out which senior living options are in your area or give us a call at 844-465-6063 to talk to one of our friendly staff members today.

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