Driving can give people more freedom and control over their lives. Older drivers who are facing driving difficulties or safety concerns might worry about losing their independence.
Having driving conversations early allows you and the older adult to focus on avoiding problems and making things better. Discussing the older adult's preferences and feelings about driving will help you work together, if there are concerns. Before you talk with the older adult, ask yourself:
Set a small goal for your first conversation. Your goal could be finding out about the older adult's driving experiences, or learning whether the older adult has changed driving habits to stay safe. Good ways to start driving conversations include sharing facts, asking the older adult about driving preferences, or mentioning friends' or family members' driving experiences. For example:
Be honest about your reasons for wanting to discuss driving. Acknowledge that the older adult might have different opinions or information that you don't know. Focus on understanding the older adult's point of view. Don't push to make decisions right away. Don't try to cover too much in your first conversation. Try to end on a positive note. If you can, agree on next steps with the older adult, like having another conversation, going for a car ride together or looking into local transportation options.
Driving retirement can be:
Having early conversations about driving can encourage the older adult to plan for driving retirement and, if needed, gradually limit driving. Good conversation starters in these situations include sharing driving facts, asking the older adult to share any feelings about or plans for driving, or mentioning friends' or family members' driving experiences.
If you're convinced that the older adult needs to stop driving, make clear how concerned you are. Describe the particular incidents you're responding to, and say how dangerous it could be for the older adult and others if they don't stop driving. For example:
It can help to involve others who the older adult respects and trusts in these conversations. You might be able to get help from health professionals, law enforcement officials or motor vehicle departments. In extreme situations, some people resort to taking away the keys or disabling or removing the car. If you are in this situation, tell the older adult you are only trying to keep them safe and that you will help them find other ways to get around. Acknowledge that the older adult might be angry with you and not trust you for a while. Explain that you would rather have them be upset with you than have them become seriously injured or harm others in an accident.
Focus on improving the older adult's comfort and safety when discussing possible changes to driving. Make sure that the older adult is able to go where they need and want to. Keep in mind:
When discussing possible driving changes with the older adult, you might want to:
Health professionals can identify and address health causes of driving problems, explain how conditions and medications can affect driving, suggest resources and help explore options. The older adult or you can ask about driving during a medical appointment. If you want to be part of the discussion, ask the older adult if that's ok. If it is, ask what role the older adult wants you to play during the appointment. Should you write down information, ask questions or support them?
Collecting information beforehand helps health professionals better understand the older adult's situation. For example, is the older adult:
General questions to ask health professionals include:
If the older adult or you have multiple concerns or questions, ask if you can schedule a longer appointment with the health professional. When you make the appointment, tell them you want to discuss driving.
If you want a health professional to help you convince the older adult to drive less or stop driving, ask for the professional's opinion beforehand. They might not agree with you about the older adult's driving abilities.
Many health professionals avoid telling their patients that they can't drive. Health professionals may feel that they don't have enough information to decide about their patients' driving, or may not want to damage their relationship with their patients.
No one wants to be in an automobile accident. However, sometimes driving safety discussions can bring up strong emotions. Older adults might be afraid that they might lose their freedom, or feel embarrassed to admit that they're struggling with something they did easily for decades. They might feel like their judgment is being questioned.
During difficult discussions, do your best to calmly and clearly share your thoughts, using phrases like, "I am concerned," "My feelings are," or "In my opinion." Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together. Listen carefully to the older adult and consider what the older adult says. Remember that what you're talking about might change the older adult's life significantly. You and the older adult might have different ways of speaking or thinking about driving.
Driving discussions can be difficult when:
It can help to make your concerns and goals clear. You might say, "I am not trying to make things difficult for you. I am worried about your safety. Please let me know what I can do." It can help to ask the older adult to explain their objections. Try to understand the older adult's point of view. If the older adult doesn't want to discuss it, don't push. You might need to agree to disagree on some things. The older adult has the right to make decisions. Think about what you can do to accept and support the older adult's choices. It's usually better to drop the subject and discuss it again later. If you understand why the last conversation was difficult, you might be able to find a different way to discuss driving next time.
Your follow-up conversations can help you work with the older adult to make driving more comfortable and safe, explore transportation options or plan for driving retirement. Follow-up conversations can be good opportunities to:
If you and the older adult agreed on next steps during your first conversation, it can be easy to bring up driving again. For example: "Are your car mirrors working better for you now?" or "I found out there are a few driving classes coming up nearby." If the first conversation didn't end with clear plans or on a positive note, there are other ways to begin a follow-up conversation. You might want to:
Ask more open-ended questions to encourage the older adult to share their thoughts and opinions. If you ask lots of "leading" questions - like "Wouldn't carpooling with Aunt Chris make more sense?" - it can seem like you're just trying to get them to go along with what you want.
Try to have smaller, more frequent conversations, rather than a few big ones. That gives you and the older adult time to get information and consider options before you discuss driving safety again.
Avoid launching into a driving conversation every time you talk with the older adult. Try to balance the "serious" talk with time spent simply enjoying each other's company.