Let's talk about driving
I know, "Easy for you to say." But this is no different than talking with young drivers about the dangers of texting and driving. Or wife and husband, "Any more speeding tickets and we won't be able to afford car insurance!" Or to your friend, "I love you too much to let you risk driving under the influence. Give me your keys." Here are some things to consider, for the senior and family:
* Just as first receiving your driver's license was a burst of freedom, giving it up is a blow! Some conversations can be ad lib'ed, but I think talking points are in order on something with such an impact.
* Our reaction speed decreases as we age. Wisdom and experience keep growing, but the body can't implement those thoughts as quickly as it used to.
* We become less resilient. Later life can be a hard time to learn and assimilate new skills. Cars change. Street signs change. Some of the new intersections and roundabouts seem like an alien planet!
* Physical strength and agility may become compromised. A physical therapist or occupational therapist may be able to help you recover or maintain these for the driving task.
* Eyesight typically suffers so keeping current with eyeglass exams and prescriptions is important.
* Medications, blood sugar level, stress, emotions, pain, and discomfort can all compound challenges to safe driving for anyone, especially seniors.
* Honestly evaluate yourself or senior loved one: Are there other tasks that can no longer be safely completed alone: vacuuming the stairs, taking out the trash, getting the big fry pan out of the stove drawer, reading the medication bottle? Driving requires continuous, instant, and unwavering ability. Your life and the lives of others depend on it.
* Take good care of that buggy. It's not just nostalgic to hang on to it - there is value in being very familiar in your car. Regular maintenance and caution are in order. On the other hand, upgrading to a newer car while the senior is driving safely and frequently may set up a lasting situation.
* Consider a safe-driving plan (ideas to formulate your own):
- Drive only during daylight, fair weather, your own specific car, city streets.
- Agree on some basic routes to routine locations and don't deviate. Let someone ride along with you as you "practice" those routes and accept their coaching on how you could be safer.
- Notify someone when you leave and when you arrive.
- A peer companion may make a good passenger and co-pilot.
- Adjust the seat, steering wheel, mirrors, climate control, and everything else while standing still. Distracted driving causes an average of 40 crashes every day in Colorado for all drivers (https://www.codot.gov/safety/distracteddriving). How much more when you are fighting to keep this privilege!?
- Family: It's not the same as independent freedom, but can you commit to having someone available to help when the senior needs to be somewhere and doesn't feel safe? (Designated Driver concept) Senior: If you can show restraint by staying home when conditions are poor, you might preserve the privilege longer.
- Enlist a driving instructor for a refresher course.
When nothing else works, or as the senior ages, consider:
* Every family has different dynamics, but several gentle starts over time are likely to go better for everyone. I don't assume that every senior will resist, as some recognize the effect of the aging process on their driving and initiate cut backs. Give each other a chance to come to a consensus.
* Colorado will not initiate evaluation and removal of driving privileges of a senior without cause. Accidents or tickets can lead to revocation of a driver's license, but please don't rely on that! Colorado does require renewal every 5 years (instead of 10) after age 61. Vision tests are required after 66. But there is SO much more to driving safely.
* Plan for transportation to the places he/she needs to be, and wants to be. Ideas include public transportation, prepaid/punch card transportation, peers, family involvement, and group outings. Senior communities can help a senior thrive with most current driving needs met by amenities on site (meals, hairdresser, social activities, entertainment) or transportation provided by the community (medical appointments, grocery/general shopping trips, activities, sight seeing).
* Cost: How many trips with a safe, senior-oriented taxi could be paid for if the car were sold? What other solutions would be possible with the savings from not having car insurance? What special "luxuries" as rewards could be acquired with savings from not having maintenance and repair costs?
* If it comes to this, a doctor or immediate family member may request that the Colorado DMV require driver re-examination (written and/or driving tests). This can be a way to get a qualified, impartial determination. It doesn't have to be subjective.
I hope these ideas help. But in many, if not most, of our driving lives, there will come a point when we must admit it is not safe any longer. Having these conversations along the way will help. Involving many family members will help. Get the advice of your physician, a friend, or physical therapist. Have the courage to talk to a senior who no longer drives - it can be done!
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