4 Strategies for Talking about Driving with Seniors

My husband and I are headed south on a road trip this weekend! I am excited to be in the car with nothing to do but enjoy this beautiful state. I imagine, with summer in full swing, that we aren't the only ones hitting the road this month. Whether for necessity or pleasure, driving is an important part of our lives.

The question of driving while we age - when and how to make accommodations or give up driving altogether - is something that we will all face at some point. It is especially tricky when a driver may overestimate their ability to drive, while family members have concerns about safety.

Here are some sensitive ways to manage the talk about driving:

1. Remember that driving is skill-dependent, not years-dependent. Drivers should reconsider driving when their skills make driving unsafe, not when they pass a chronological milestone. If you are concerned about someone else's driving, it's important to observe them from the passenger seat or another car (perhaps driving behind them). Take note of specific concerns, such as behaviors behind the wheel and/or a history of recent accidents.

2. Be empathetic about what driving means to a senior driver. I still remember the feeling when I got my driver's license and first car: Freedom! Driving can symbolize independence, freedom, joy, youthfulness, connection to the community, or wealth. It can also be a hobby for those who like to drive or fix cars. Before you go in with your agenda, take a minute to empathize, hypothesize, or wonder what driving means to your senior driver. This will help you empathize and listen better - and you'll be more likely to have a productive conversation.

3. Speak about your concerns from your perspective, using "I" statements. ("I am really worried about you because you've gotten into three car accidents in the last month.") This can avoid the appearance of placing blame and mitigate defensiveness.

4. Bring alternative options. Some occupational therapists (OT) specialize in driver evaluations and driver rehabilitation. A senior driver might benefit from an objective OT evaluation and skills to improve driver safety. If that's not an option, most popular ride-sharing companies offer options for people without smartphones. Third-party companies like Go Go Grandparent or Arrive make ordering a ride through Lyft or Uber easy with a simple phone call through any landline or cell phone.

Remember, this can be a sensitive issue and may take multiple conversations. If you have serious concerns about safety, you should contact the DMV or speak with your loved one's medical provider (if you have permission to do so).

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