How can you know for sure when senior parents should stop driving and when it’s time to broach this sensitive topic?  The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has a helpful list of signs that indicate it may be time to limit or stop driving.  The list includes things like frequent “close calls”, getting lost, issues with eyesight and easily becoming distracted.  Once you have decided to have the talk, here are some tips for making it comfortable and effective.

  • Take a ride to assess your parent’s driving skills yourself. It’s a great conversation starter.  It can be helpful to take a ride with your parent, and then debrief them afterwards.
  • Keep your tone respectful and sympathetic. Driving represents autonomy, mobility and social life.  You’re not bringing up this topic to be cruel and take away your parents independence, you’re having the discussion because you love your parents and are worried about their health and safety.  You are not saying, Give me the keys!  You are saying “I care for you and I want you to be healthy, mobile and as independent as possible.”  “If you can’t drive, then we will work together to figure out something else.”  The tone you take can make a big difference.
  • Provide alternative options. Follow up and help your parents find ways to continue their current activities even if they cannot drive.  Perhaps friends, family members can pitch in. Or in area’s such as Holland and Zeeland, public transportation is a great option for seniors.
  • Get experts involved if necessary. If your parent seems unreceptive to your message, schedule a medical appointment to see if illness or medication is affecting their driving.  Make sure your parent has an annual eye exam.  A doctor can also refer your parent to a driving clinic to have their skills assessed by a professional.
  • Keep an open, ongoing dialogue. Finally, don’t stop talking after just one conversation.  Return to the topic periodically, and continually reassess your parent’s driving.  A change in skills behind the wheel doesn’t necessarily mean going from driving anywhere to driving nowhere.  A senior driver may be find with familiar local driving, or driving only during daytime hours.  It is not a conversation that you have to get right.  Think about it as a process.  A process with the goal of keeping your parents as active as possible and as safe as possible.