Choose the Right Time
Giving up driving can be a sensitive topic, and for some, may feel like surrendering a sense of independence. To help make your loved one comfortable during this conversation, raise the topic in private in a relaxed and comfortable environment, Dr. McKoy says. Avoid being confrontational, and don’t gather extended family for a meeting that feels like an intervention.
“You want to be involved, not intrusive,” notes Dr. McKoy. If you’re unsure of the right time, consider bringing up the conversation while watching T.V. together, or while stopping for lunch during a shopping trip. If applicable, mention a near accident you recently had and ask something like, “Have you had problems with aggressive drivers, too?”
“Make sure you have a lot of time and are coming from a non-confrontational place of love,” says Dr. McKoy. “You might get some pushback, or they might say, ‘Let me think about it.’”
Ideally, this conversation will happen early enough so your loved one doesn’t feel pressured. “It’s better if you’re just talking about it and not treating them like they’re senile,” adds Dr. McKoy. “You want to communicate that the goal is for them to be independent and safe.”
Offer Examples and Facts
Once the conversation begins, share the examples and facts you prepared. Ask how your loved one feels about driving at night or in the rain, or raise an incident they’ve mentioned in the past, for example, “You mentioned you had a scare on the road recently. Do you think it might be time to think about how you can continue to meet your friends or go to the symphony without driving?”
Asking about their car maintenance and registration can also be helpful. This can be a time to ask whether they’ve considered not renewing the registration, or if they might enjoy not having to deal with the upkeep of their car.
You can also show them statistics noting the risks of fatalities and injuries for people in their age group, suggests Dr. McKoy. “What usually works for me in these conversations is saying, ‘You’re a good person, and I know you wouldn’t want to harm a child if you were to cause an accident. Imagine how that would make you feel,’” she adds.
Perhaps most important in any conversation about driving ability, is empathy. Be compassionate, and try not get exasperated if your loved one is unwilling to hand over their car keys immediately. Giving up the freedom and autonomy to travel without assistance is significant for many people, says Dr. McKoy. Additionally, most people don’t want to be a burden to others when it comes to transportation. It’s important to help them make this transition to not driving by helping them retain their social lives and sense of independence.
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Make a Plan
Giving up driving can come with risks, and it’s reported older adults who stop driving are nearly two times more likely to suffer from depression, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Age Lab and Hartford Funds. To help mitigate risks, make a plan to help your loved one maintain their quality of life through this transition.
Loved ones also are less likely to feel like a burden if taking them places is framed as a way to enjoy time together rather than a task or favor you’re doing for them. A grocery trip could include dinner or a movie, too, suggests Dr. McKoy.
If you live close enough to a loved one and are able to drive them wherever they may need to go, Dr. McKoy recommends being cautious of overcommitting. Having a roster of backup drivers who can drive if needed, such as a neighbor or grandchild can also help lighten the responsibility of family members.
There are a variety of ways to help a person keep their independence, even without a driver’s license. If it’s safe for them to ride the bus or other public transportation in their area, help them navigate the schedule and familiarize them with the stops they’ll need. If a loved one lives in a condo or senior living facility, find out what rideshare options might be available in their building or broader community. Automatic delivery services for errands like groceries and medications can also help, but Dr. McKoy notes it’s important for seniors to get out of the house for fresh air and to continue socializing.