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What To Do When You Are Concerned with Your Senior Driving

Senior Driving a Car

Adult children should be paying attention for signs that may indicate their senior parents are becoming unsafe drivers. These signs can be categorized into issues with physical capabilities, cognitive capabilities, poor driving skills, and undesirable behaviors. Some of these include:

Physical Capabilities

  • Difficulty seeing or hearing what is going on outside the car
  • Issues related to moving foot from the gas to brake pedal
  • Difficulty turning head when changing lanes or backing up
  • Delayed reaction times to unexpected situations

Cognitive Capabilities

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Being extremely nervous while driving
  • Getting confused at intersections, entrance or exit ramps
  • Becoming easily distracted while driving

Poor Driving Skills

  • Not using turn signals regularly
  • Trouble with turns and maintaining the correct lane
  • Difficulty judging the space between vehicles
  • Inappropriate parking or hitting curbs
  • Unpredictable stopping in traffic

Undesirable Behaviors

  • Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
  • Distracted or impaired driving
  • Unexplained scrapes or dents on the car
  • Frequent close calls or being ticketed for moving violations

External Advice

  • Concerns expressed by doctors, pharmacists, or other drivers
  • Reluctance of others to ride with the senior

If these signs are present, it may be time to have a sensitive conversation with your senior about their driving abilities and consider a professional driving assessment. It’s also important to be aware of any changes in health that may affect their driving abilities .

Can Someone With a Dementia Diagnosis Still Drive?

A dementia diagnosis does not automatically mean that a person has to stop driving. In the early stages of dementia, some individuals may still possess the necessary skills for safe driving. However, dementia is a progressive condition, meaning that symptoms such as memory loss and visual-spatial disorientation will likely worsen over time. At the early stages is a good time to start talking about when the individual should stop driving.

The American Academy of Neurology recommends that people with mild dementia strongly consider discontinuing driving. Individuals with moderate or severe dementia should not drive, and in some states, their licenses may be automatically revoked. Please check with your state about their requirements.

State laws vary regarding when a person with dementia should stop driving. Some states will automatically revoke a license when a person is diagnosed with moderate or severe dementia, while others may require a driving re-examination. Some states require the doctor to send a report to the motor vehicle office after a person is diagnosed with dementia. However, there are some concerns if this is actually with getting these impaired seniors off the road. 

It’s important to request regular assessments during doctor office visits to identify a decline in abilities that could affect driving safety. If there are additional concerns about a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, an occupational therapist can evaluate the person’s ability to drive.

While a dementia diagnosis does not automatically mean a person should stop driving, it does indicate a need for discussion about when they should stop driving on their own, regular re-evaluations of driving ability and potentially a discussion about alternative transportation options as the disease progresses.

How to Speak To Parents About Giving Up Driving

This can be a sensitive topic, especially if they are dealing with dementia or other physical issues such as vision or hearing problems. It’s important to approach the conversation with compassion and sympathy, considering how you would feel if you were in their position and about to lose some of their independence.

When speaking to a senior about their driving, it’s important to use specific phrases that are respectful, non-confrontational, and focus on the safety and well-being of the community but also themselves and their family. Here are some examples of how you might approach the conversation:

  • Open the Conversation Gently: “Our family has noticed a few changes in your driving and we are concerned about your safety on the road. Have you noticed any changes yourself?”
  • Express Concerns Tactfully: “We know how important driving is to you, but we are worried about how some of your health issues might affect your ability to drive at night or when there is a lot of traffic.”
  • Ask About Specific Situations: “How do you feel about driving at night or in heavy traffic on I-35 these days?”
  • Use Personal Observations: “When we last drove to the store together, I noticed it was a bit difficult for you to see upcoming cars that were in the blind spot. That can happen to anyone. What can you do about that to make it less risky?”
  • Discuss Alternatives: “If driving is stressful, there are other ways to help you get around. We can look into transportation services or a local volunteer driving programs. We can even look at apps like Uber or Lyft.”
  • Avoid Conflict and Blame: “It’s not about blame or taking away your independence. It’s about making sure you and those around you are safe.” Do not confront them while you are in the car with them. Collect notes or even video evidence with your phone or a dash cam.
  • Be Supportive: “I understand this is a topic neither one of us wants to talk about. Let’s work together to find solutions that help you stay active, keep your lifestyle and maintain your independence to the best of our ability. I know you don’t want to feel like a burden to any of us.”
  • Suggest a Professional Assessment: “What do you think about getting a professional driving assessment? It’s a good way to get an expert’s opinion on your driving skills.” AAA offers some driving evaluation resources

Remember to be patient and give the senior time to process the conversation. It may take multiple discussions before any decisions are made.

How State Laws Impact Seniors

In Texas where I live, there are specific rules and processes to be aware of state by state. If you have concerns about your parent’s driving ability, you can go directly to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and request that they give your parent a new vision test, paper test, and even a driving test with an inspector. If your parent was diagnosed with dementia, a full evaluation is likely a smart choice. The presence of mild dementia (CDR score 0.5 PDF) precludes driving unless judged to be safe by a neuropsychological evaluation of cognitive abilities involved in driving and a driver evaluation.

For vision issues, Texas law prohibits driving if the vision is worse than 20/50 without special aids. If your parent is hard of hearing, Texas offers a driver identification program that issues Visor Identification Cards to eligible applicants.

If your parent is 79 years or older, they must always renew their license in person. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) may require them to take a driving test or obtain additional information from their physician if it is determined that they may not be able to safely operate a motor vehicle.

If your parent is under the age of 79 or resistant to giving up driving, consider involving an outside professional. Often, hearing from a professional that it’s time to stop driving can be more straightforward than hearing it from one of the family members. If all else fails, you can report an unsafe driver to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Drivers License Division, which will begin a review by a medical advisory board to determine someone’s driving privileges.

Finally, it’s important to discuss alternative transportation options to help your parent maintain their independence. For example, there are programs like Drive a Senior Faith in Action or Senior Access that we have here in Austin, TX.

What Resources Are Available for Seniors Who Need To Stop Driving

There are several resources available for elderly people who need to stop driving. These resources can help them maintain their independence and mobility, and can also provide emotional support during this transition.

  1. Public Transportation: Public transportation is an affordable option for seniors who are in good health and do not drive. 
  2. Para-transit Services: These services provide door-to-door or curb-to-curb transportation using mini-buses or small vans. They are often provided by either public transit, aging organizations, as well as some private agencies.
  3. Private Ride Services and Ride-Hailing Services: Services like Uber and Lyft can be a convenient option for seniors who have a smartphone and are comfortable using these apps.
  4. Volunteer Programs: Many local nonprofits offer free senior transportation services where volunteers drive seniors door-to-door for errands and appointments.
  5. Senior Community Transportation: Some communities offer transportation specifically for seniors. This can include shuttle services, bus services, or other transportation options..
  6. AAA’s RoadWise Driver Course: This course is designed to help older drivers understand their abilities and limitations. Some car insurance companies may even lower your bill when you complete this type of class.
  7. Local Area Agency on Aging (AAA): Your local AAA or AARP can provide information about transportation options in your area.
  8. Eldercare Locator: This is a free national service of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) that can help you find resources for older adults in any U.S. community.
  9. Apps: There are several apps like local grocery delivery apps, Swingby.Care and others that can help support your parents needs.

Remember, giving up driving does not mean giving up independence. With the right resources and support, seniors can continue to live active and fulfilling lives and not feel like a burden on their family with reduced independence.

📸 Photo by Andrea PiacquadioAndrea Piacquadio:

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