Help! Aging Parents: A Driving Discussion? To Drive or Not to Drive–Part 3

We begin to realize, for aging parents life is a delicate balance–physically and mentally. J reminds us in the first driving post that no one likes seeing a lessening of him/herself–but “there comes a time.”  And when the time comes, no one wants to be told what to do, made to feel he or she is being treated like an infant.  So how do we discuss driving with parents?

Most of us think driving is necessary to maintain quality of life. No wonder we dread having the not-driving talk with our parents! To help parents age well we don’t want to diminish their quality of life.  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.

Since it makes sense to have good information before plunging into anything problematical, here’s another valuable link to an AARP website seminar: Although long–this is a life-changing topic after all– it’s well-thought-out, may well resonate, and you can watch in installments. If it doesn’t meet all your needs, continue reading below for strategies I knew, wish I’d known or used successfully with my parents.  They can improve chances for success when attempting difficult conversations.

With the goal of helping aging parents and the realization that “one size doesn’t fit all,” I put older drivers into three groups:

Those in group 1: know themselves, are honest with themselves and quit driving when they should. They have pride, pre-empt, don’t like being told what to do.

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. If we were going some place together, I always asked 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.

Friends constantly pressured me to make him quit driving after he turned 90.  If there was no threat to life and limb, why do that? I checked 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.)  He ultimately decided to stop driving at 93.

The second group is in denial. Denial, a psychological defense mechanism, can exist without our realizing it. It keeps us from facing a reality we’re not yet ready to deal with. Can we speed up parents’ readiness to face reality? We can only try.

An often successful strategy: to say something that suggests “I need your help.” This pulls parents into finding a solution as a partner; lets us offer information (ie. about resources that extend older drivers’ ability to drive) perhaps from the last post’s links. It opens the conversation to objective observations about their driving–or about something connected to their driving that could be problematical.

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 knee-jerk reaction was to tell her all of my reservations. Instead I said “let’s figure out how,” pulling her into the conversation as a partner. I said that she could drive (true); she could have lessons to boost her confidence or go with me to an empty parking lot if she wanted to try driving there first. I also explained that she needed to be able to get in and out of the car by herself and maneuver her walker alone (reality). Initially 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.

The third group, downright dangerous drivers, is next Tuesday’s post.


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