“The Driving Conversation” is one of those events in caring for an aging loved one that every family sees coming and yet few feel equipped to have. Adult children of seniors with declining faculties are often hesitant to discuss this topic with their elderly parents, recognizing that the senior will likely view their car keys as a key symbol of independence.

Reviewing the Facts

Aging adults often begin to experience one or more age- and health-related conditions which make driving unsafe for them and other drivers on the road. Common impairments include visionhearingarthritis in hands or feet and slower reflexes. Seniors also use many more medications whose side effects, such as dizziness or tiredness, can driving more dangerous.

This is not a knock on older drivers. Seniors actually practice safer driving habits – they use seat belts, drive at or below the speed limit, don’t drive at night or on highways as much – but in part due to weaker bones, heart disease, other health problems, accidents that do happen are more likely to have more serious consequences. Adults over the age of 85 are four times as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than are teenagers.

Other issues are less directly related to driving and more about getting in and out of a car, such as difficulty standing up out of a low or soft seat. If Alzheimer’s or any other type of Dementia is in the mix, seniors can lose focus while driving or more easily get lost.

Beyond physical harm to one’s self, a passenger, pedestrians, or other drivers, if an aging loved one is involved in a car crash after being advised against driving by a physician (even if they are the one who is hit!), they may find themselves liable for significant financial damages, as well.

Recognizing the Signs

It need not take a serious motor vehicle accident for a family to begin to think about transitioning a senior away from driving. Some other important indicators include:

  • Multiple accidents over a short period of time
  • Slower reflexes in other circumstances
  • Inability to see well at night
  • Inability to drive the posted speed limit (driving too slowly)
  • Others feeling uncomfortable as passengers in the vehicle

A proactive approach may prevent a bad situation later on. Dealing with a bit of defensiveness because there hasn’t been a bad accident yet is far better than the alternative.

Uncomfortable Discussions

Undoubtedly, it is hard to confront a parent about his or her driving. Feelings may be hurt; angers may flare. How do you begin the conversation without alienating your parent?

Choose your timing of the conversation, when things are calm. There isn’t a simple way to broach the conversation of someone’s driving safety but it can be done in a respectful way. Safety may be your main concern, independence or freedom may be theirs – since they don’t view their driving as a problem. Don’t assume after one conversation they will stop driving. You are simply presenting your concerns and steering toward an alternative plan. Going in with the mindset that this will be a multi-conversation discussion will prevent you from feeling disappointed if you do not get the desired outcome right away.

As with any difficult conversation, listening is as important to getting a desired outcome as is speaking. Acknowledge differences of opinion. Don’t overwhelm your loved one or make them feel either ganged up on or that everyone is talking about them behind their back. The second or third time you broach the topic, however, you may enlist the help of others with influence – another family member, include their doctor or other professional they trust. You may even have to go the legal route. In Florida, an anonymous tip to the Department of Motor Vehicles is enough to put things in motion for your relative to have their driving skills be tested or assessed.

When addressing the driving issue with your elderly mother or father, you may be able to get them to agree to be evaluated. In Palm Beach County there are Senior Driving Assessment programs at Delray Medical Center and at the FAU Memory & Wellness Center. Nationwide, AAA also has tools that can provide an unbiased perspective on whether it is safe for someone to continue driving.

Alternative Methods of Transportation

Beyond the emotional challenge to a person’s self-image of being independent, giving up driving presents practical challenges, as well. In South Florida and other areas of the country, driving is almost essential because we don’t have subways or many taxis driving around. Seniors may not be comfortable using Uber, Lyft or other means of transportation that have largely taken the place of public transport. Where bussing is available, it may be too hot or uncomfortable for aging riders to wait for one.

Accordingly, if it is determined that the aging adult in your family should no longer be driving then alternative solutions must be found. Giving up driving does not – and should not – mean not going out!

Some areas are better than others for accessible senior transportation. Broward County has the TOPS program and Palm Beach County has Palm Tram for senior transportation. You may be able to arrange a monthly fee with a taxi company or a private rideshare driver willing to work outside of the app, though care should be taken that the individual is both trustworthy and capable of helping your loved one in and out of the car safely. 

Or you may wish to combine services into one solution.

Hiring a home care aide will not only provide your loved one with a driver and transportation, the caregiver will also assist with shopping, appointments, cooking, laundry and even personal care. The home health aide can bring groceries in from the car and will have special training on helping seniors getting in and out of a car with appropriate support.

When hiring a homecare aide becomes part of the option set, the discussion can actually shift from road safety to one of assistance once the person has arrived at their destination. Who wouldn’t want someone to carry our shopping bags, take notes at doctors’ appointments or keep track of our social calendar? A long-term care insurance policy may cover the cost of even a few hours a week of transportation services provided by a homecare aide.

A professional caregiver referred by a home health agency or nurse registry will always come screened, vetted and trusted. All home health aides working with a licensed homecare company in Florida undergo a complete federal background check and are fully up to date on all trainings and certifications.

Boca Home Care Services has been helping our friends and neighbors in South Florida for over twenty-five years. We know it can be difficult to bring a homecare aide into a loved one’s home or entrust them with driving a relative around town, and we personally screen each caregiver to ensure we would be comfortable bringing them into our own homes; in fact, some of our favorite clients are our very own employees’ parents!

Working with a nurse registry or home health agency provides the peace of mind that a caregiver will always be available to your loved one. Even if their primary aide is under the weather or has a personal matter come up, we can help arrange backup care anywhere from Jupiter to Sunrise, from Boynton Beach to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. 

Call one of our care specialists today to discuss how a homecare aide can provide transportation services for your loved one, keeping them safe and secure while out and about.