Series on Aging – Part Four, When Should I Give Up Driving?
Most seniors in retirement learned to drive at a time in our culture when being behind the wheel seemed to add to ones ego. Our automobiles were an extension of us. For males, it had to do with masculinity, arriving, having a leg up. Not being a female, I don’t know how they felt. My guess is that it just served as a convenience.
Over the years, the extension of that macho image, came to be exercised in the particular car we chose to drive. In Texas and Arizona, apparently all over the country, that translated into big, brawny pickups. For families, it became the SUV, and so on. You get the picture.
So, all of this contributes to our identifying our ability to drive as a symbol of independence and competency. As we grow older, driving becomes more and more a serious question of driving skills and ability as well as safety.
There are many horror stories related to older persons driving and having accidents which cause major trauma, damage, crippling effects and even death. Such events are reminders of our own need to evaluate our ability to drive with objective insight.
Many are the times when families come face to face with this issue and pits reason against sentiment. There are a variety of tell-tale signs which ought to indicate that it is time to confront the matter and discuss with calmness and reality. Primary signs of potential driving issues include diminished eyesight, slower reflex response time, limited neck range-of-motion which interferes with turning ones head to see other nearby vehicles, and driving too slowly in an attempt to compensate.
For the best results, it would be helpful if the aging driver in this scenario, i.e. the one about whom there are questions, would bring it up him/herself. That will likely not happen. It does now and again. But, usually the reluctance to surrender independence is the prevailing issue on the table.
That doesn’t make it easy. If the senior has already moved from their principal residence to a facility, then it is even more difficult to broach the subject. However, if staff at the facility and social workers and nurses and physicians are brought into the circle, not literally but advisedly, then it will improve the possibilities of a more pleasant outcome.
Another aid is being sure that when the license comes due, it is done in person. That will enable vision testing, answering questions, and, at least, inviting another source of judgment into the picture.
This decision will not be well made if it is made without considerable discussion and reflection on the part of all involved. So, start early enough before some episode or accident forces it. Enable the older drive to maintain some dignity. Be sure they will have other sources of transportation available to them. Don’t expect that they will want to surrender other activities in their life, just because they can’t drive any longer.
And then, as always, hug them and tell them how much you care for them and how important it is to keep them safe.