Most of us think driving is necessary for our quality of life. No wonder we dread having the not-driving talk with our parents! If we can have this talk before driving is an issue we’re a step ahead. If we’re in crisis mode, it’s so much harder.
What follows are strategies and some information that I knew, wish I’d known or tried successfully with my parents.
I put older drivers in three groups: Those in the first group know themselves, are honest with themselves and quit driving when they should. They have pride and don’t appreciate being told what to do. Denial characterizes the second group’s members, who don’t realize they’re bad drivers. Drivers in the third group are the most difficult. They’re not only bad drivers, but you can’t discuss anything with them. Today we focus on groups 1 and 2.
If your parent is in the first group like my father was, you’re lucky. Dad took the “Driving Miss Daisy” movie to heart; we had the driving discussion early. As a far-away-living adult child who believes in empowering, I found excuses to visit him every 4-6 weeks after Mother died. Once Dad turned 90 friends constantly pressured me to make him quit driving. (Age, you know.) I couldn’t see making my father do anything if there was no threat to life and limb. I did check his car for scratches, dents, or newly painted areas during each visit.(I would have done that regularly, even if I lived in the same town.) If we were going some place together, I always asked him whether he wanted to drive. He volunteered at least once each visit.
He stuck to the speed limit. Not over, not under. His depth perception was better than mine. He no longer had the radio on. “A distraction,” he said. Writing about it now I wonder if he surmised he was taking a driver’s exam with me. He was in control.
The second group is in denial. Denial exists without our even realizing it. It’s a psychological mechanism that keeps us from facing a reality we’re not yet ready to deal with. How do we speed up parents’ readiness to face reality? We can only try. An often successful start begins by saying “I need your help,” which pulls them in as a partner to the solution. We could explain that older drivers should know about resources that extend people’s ability to drive and offer information from the last post’s websites, or possibly an objective observation we’ve made of their driving or something connected to their driving; then see if anything resonates.
For example, my mother had a stroke. She recovered well, but her balance was shaky. She worried about falling. She still planned to drive. My kneejerk reaction was to tell her all of my reservations. Instead I said objectively that she could drive (true), and she could have lessons to boost her confidence or go with me to a large empty parking lot if she wanted to try that first. I also explained that she would have to be able to get in and out of the car by herself and maneuver her walker alone (reality). At first she said she wanted to try, but then decided there was too much effort involved. Perhaps because Dad was still alive to drive her, she never drove again.