How to Talk to Your Elderly Parents About Driving

One of the most difficult conversations we can have with our elderly parents is about driving.  Cars bring us independence in daily life, and the thought of having to give that up is frightening.  However the prospect of seeing our loved ones in an accident can be equally upsetting.  If you’ve recently become concerned about the driving habits of a parent or think it may be time for them give up driving altogether, here are some ways to bring up the topic before the unthinkable happens.

elderly drivers

Observe your Parent’s Driving Habits

When discussing why it may be time for your family member to stop driving, it’s important to have specific examples to reference to.  Keep an eye on how your parent handles their vehicle.  Can they stay in their own lane? Are they aware of aware of oncoming traffic? Have new dents and scratches appeared on their vehicle?

This handy checklist provides an idea of some the things you should be looking for:

Figure Out How to Frame the Conversation

Topics surrounding aging and family are difficult for everyone involved, so it’s important to plan your conversation strategy ahead of time.  While the whole family may be concerned for your parent’s safety, keep the discussion one-on-one to avoid your mother and father feeling like they’re being ganged up on.  Figure out who should do the talking – particularly if there is a family member or close friend who knows how to address sensitive discussions.  Frame the topic as something that will help improve your parent’s quality of life – consider calling it a “driving retirement” discussion, not a plea to “give up” the keys.Talking to your elderly parents

Avoid Confrontation

It’s difficult not to take comments on own your driving habits personally – so keep this perspective in mind during your discussion.  Use a supportive approach that avoids pointing the finger at issues that could put your parent on the defensive – such as their age, or an existing disability.  Instead, highlight how their driving affects the safety of others (e.g. “What if there’s an accident while the Grandchildren are in the car?”), or the costs for vehicle repairs. Let your loved one know that they have your support and understanding by acknowledging how difficult this must be for them to hear.  If tempers begin to rise, stop the conversation and save it for another time when everyone has cooled off.

Get a Professional Opinion

If you’re worried your elderly parents unsafe driving habits may be indicative of a larger health issue, consider booking an appointment with a physician. In some cases, inattentiveness could stem from the need for a new glasses prescription, or hearing loss.  Occupational therapists are another excellent resource to talk to in the event that physical limitations are interfering with car handling. An OT can prescribe equipment to such as larger mirrors for improved visibility, or devices to help with pedal operation and steering.

elderly driving

Figure out Alternatives

Some elderly drivers stay behind the wheel out of perceived necessity. Sit down and figure out what your parent’s transportation needs are and develop a plan. Can family member offer rides to the grocery store? What facilities are within distance of other means of transportation?  Most public transit offers discounts for seniors. Purchase a bus pass and ride with your mother or father to help familiarize them with the stops they need, and look into senior pick up services as this is something many communities offer. Public transportation is a great way to save money on gas and vehicle insurance, so be sure to point out the cost benefits.

Start Slow

The transition to longer driving is a difficult one that can often lead to feelings of isolation and depression.  If possible, start by reducing the amount of time your parent spends behind the wheel. Offer to pick them up, or ask them to consider no longer driving at night.

The most important thing in these conversations is to work together.  By continuing to offer support your parents support,  you are letting them know they aren’t alone during this changeover, and that should help make the prospect of giving up the keys a little less frightening.

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