Several years ago, Mom started to get a little forgetful, began to repeat stories, would lose things. We all marked it off to "getting old" - until she said to my middle son (with a laugh) - Sometimes when I'm on the freeway I forget what to do. That's when we knew if was time to find a way to take the car away or at least limit her driving.
Your parent is getting older, and odds are, you're starting to get worried about how he or she is driving. Perhaps you've noticed a few scrapes and dents on their car, or they've made some offhand comments about how driving has gotten harder for them. Or, maybe they've given no indication at all that they're having trouble driving.
As the fastest-growing segment of drivers (some estimates suggest that as many as a quarter of all drivers will be over 65 by 2025), it's something most families will have to deal with. So it's best to be aware of the physical and cognitive changes as well as medical conditions that make driving riskier with age.
And while research shows that seniors tend to have safer driving habits than many of their younger counterparts (they're more likely to wear their seatbelts, and less likely to drive drunk, for example), a 2014 study found that distracted driving may be more dangerous for drivers over 65 due to age-related cognitive decline.
Inevitably, there will come a day when Mom or Dad can no longer drive safely. But if your parent still hasn't reached that point, you'll want to have some strategies in your pocket to help your them stay mobile, independent, and above all, safe.
Below are some ways to help you do just that:
1. Make Sure Your Parent is Healthy Enough to Drive
First thing's first. Make sure that your aging loved one is in good shape to drive, both physically and cognitively. A doctor can evaluate him or her to help gauge their ability to drive safely. Some health considerations that frequently affect seniors include vision and hearing problems, so you'll want to ensure your parent has both their hearing and vision tested. Talk to them and their doctors if you're concerned about their ability to hear or see while driving.
Most folks over 65 are taking some type of medication. The question is whether any of those medicines create side effects that could make them drowsy or less alert. If the answer is yes, they'll need to consider limiting or stopping driving.
2. Encourage Exercise
It turns out that exercise has yet another benefit - it can help older adults stay fit to drive. Research has shown that higher levels of physical fitness correlate to better driving performance for senior drivers. That doesn't mean your aging parent needs to sign up for a gym membership or start running marathons. Any physical activity that boosts flexibility should also help improve posture and stave off fatigue while driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has created some simple stretching exercises to help seniors improve their flexibility.
3. Check Their Car
Almost as important to senior driving safety as physical fitness is the vehicles seniors are driving. Today's car manufacturers offer a range of features that can help keep older drivers comfortable and safe. Take a look at your parent's vehicle and how they interact with it the next time you see them. Is it easy for them to get in and out of the driver's seat? Once seated, do they have enough legroom, and are they easily able to adjust mirrors and seats?
There are a number of additional features that can address common senior health issues - for example, six-way adjustable seats allow drivers with hip pain to easily adjust their seats in different directions. And a senior with vision problems may benefit from features such as extendable sun visors, larger control buttons, or an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
4. Consider Driver Refresher Courses
Many organizations offer driver refresher courses designed for seniors. While it may take a little convincing to get your aging parent to head back to a physical classroom, there are plenty of online classes that can help them re-sharpen their driving skills. And in case they need added incentive, let your parent know that taking one of these classes may actually save them money on car insurance.
5. Limit Driving
If your parent is having trouble driving, limiting where and when he or she drives can help them stay on the road while lowering some of the risks they face. Some obvious ways to do this would be to avoid driving at night or in bad weather - conditions that can be hazardous for drivers at any age. It's also a good idea for them to refrain from driving at rush hour or to take less-busy roads when possible.
Talking to your aging parent about their driving isn't easy, but having that conversation far outweighs the potential catastrophe that awaits if you ignore the issue. Be sensitive when discussing the subject, and make sure your parent knows you'll be there for them when the time comes for them to hand over the keys.
Bottom line - if you think there may be a problem, there probably is. Your aging loved one may drive just fine on surface streets but so could your 12 year old. And if something does happen, if they do hurt another person, you could be liable for the damage. Or the death.
After Mom's comment to our son, we started the process and took the car away within two weeks. We just couldn't take that chance ... with her life, our assets, or the life of another.
Dayna Steele is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's with Friends, Facebook, and a Really Big Glass of Wine. She is also the Chief Caring Expert for Caring.com and writes daily for YourDailySuccessTip.com.