Driving Cessation or Continuation

 by Lauren Watral

There comes a time in the caregiver’s journey and their elder loved one to discuss  the issue of continuation or cessation of driving privileges  Driving, remember, is a privilege, not a right.  The elder driver begins to have some driving safety issues which they don’t necessarily see as a problem, but the family members do.  These issues include:

  • Getting lost or confused in areas which at once were familiar
  • Having difficulty seeing and driving at night
  • Misjudging speeds of oncoming or crossing vehicles
  • Forgetting where in the parking lot the car was parked
  • Feeling stressed when getting ready to drive
  • Confusing the gas pedal with the brake pedal
  • Difficulty fastening the seatbelt
  • Experiencing close calls and near misses
  • Turning left produces anxiety
  • Honking horns from other drivers is more frequent
  • Feeling agitated and frustrated when driving
  • Missing important sign information
  • Difficulty looking over the shoulder and backing up or changing lanes

This is only an abbreviated list of all the issues driving elders may or may not experience that can signal to family and friends that there is a problem.  Some elders will recognize the need to stop driving but there are other more determined and independent elders who will cling to what they view as a “right” to continue driving.  They consider driving a car allows for personal freedom, emotional dignity, and control during a time when they are slowly losing their independence.  They may become defensive and resentful when a family member or friend broaches the subject of driving cessation, when they view the problem to be a safety and financial risk issue.  The bottom line is the elder is fearful…driving cessation is just one more step closer to losing autonomy and  control  and becoming more isolated and depressed.

What is a family to do when the elder refuses to surrender their driving privilege?   It’s a tough conversation to have with the elder who challenges the family and insists that they are not ready to give up the keys.   Talking to our aging parents about these really essential issues triggers:

  • anxiety
  •  agitation
  •  confusion
  • fear
  • frustration
  •  anger
  • sorrow
  • love
  •  grief
  • headache
  • tension
  • embarrassment
  • stress

In fact, according to a The National Safety Council, as quoted in Beyond Driving With Dignity, the workbook for families of older drivers, by retired highway patrolman, Matt Gurwell , adult children would rather talk to parents about funeral plans than about taking away car keys.    So, how do we address this particularly important issue with our elders?  How do we discuss issues with the people who are supposed to be the ones to tell us what to do and who are supposed to look after our best interests and  take care of us? How do we talk about issues that make us all feel awkward and uneasy but are necessary to address, while at the same time maintaining our parents’ dignity and respect?

A few important techniques can help reduce tension when discussing driving cessation: (a full explanation can be found on pages 24 of Matt’s book, Beyond Driving With Dignity.)

  • Be respectful
  • Don’t assume or dictate your parents’ wishes
  • Treat with dignity
  • Share your thoughts and talk slowly
  • Be tolerant and composed

Beyond Driving With Dignity  is an excellent tool to assist the family in navigating this tumultuous journey of drivng cessation.  The workbook can be ordered at http://keepingussafe.org/workbookrgcm.htm.    Ordering at this website will give you an immediate discount from the retail price.

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