Helping your aging parent when they have to give up driving

With millions of aging drivers behind the wheel in Canada, safety is a major issue for seniors, their families and other motorists sharing the road. It can be tough to broach the subject when your mom or dad’s age gets in the way of their driving ability.

“In many cases, the aging driver has driven for 50, 60 or 70 years without ever having been involved in an accident or having received a traffic citation,” says Matt Gurwell, a retired officer with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and president and CEO of Keeping Us Safe.

Gurwell recently presented his “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program to staff at Palisades on the Glen retirement community where 71 percent of residents still drive. Staff learn how to help seniors and their families create a plan of action when the senior must stop driving.

Maintaining dignity

“Suggesting that they give up driving after so many years of successful driving needs to be handled with compassion, empathy and tact,” says Gurwell.  “It is critically important to allow the individual to maintain his or her dignity, and proactive steps must be taken to ensure that the individual does not lose their independence.”

Gurwell offers these tips when it's time for your parent to relinquish control of the car:

-       Avoid aggressive or threatening comments, such as “talking away your keys” or “taking away your car”. Instead, opt for less intrusive terms like “driving retirement” or “transitioning from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat”.

-       Families should address the issue in a unified voice. “Whether they are in complete agreement or not,” says Gurwell, “siblings need to speak from the same sheet of music when discussing the issue with their family member.”

-       Approach a retirement from driving as a process, not an event. If possible, bring up the issue before the aging driver’s skills start to diminish so that when it is time to restrict or cease driving, the doors of communication are already open.

-       An adult child's decision about suggesting to an aging driver with diminished skills that they need to retire from driving, must be based on observable facts, not opinion, speculation or emotion. Remember to focus on driving skills, not age.

Reliable alternatives to driving 

For aging drivers, Gurwell believes the key to a successful driving retirement is to find reliable and practical transportation alternatives, including public transportation, family and neighbours, services offered through local senior citizens centres or community-based organizations.


Related articles:

101-year-old woman drives 81-year-old-car

Grandma is a safer driver than mom

How to cope with an elderly parent's anxiety: 15 tips

Four signs your elderly parent needs help at home

Has your parent had to give up driving? How did they—and you—handle it? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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