“I’m going to drive myself to the nursing home or the cemetery, whichever comes first.”
That comment from an elderly driver shows what you might be up against when you try to persuade a parent, friend or other elderly person to stop driving.
While there are many individual exceptions, the chance of having an accident typically begins to increase around the age of 55, and the risk rises dramatically for people with diseases or who take medications that affect their motor skills, vision and/or judgment.
Still, many Americans think of driving as a fundamental right, and for older people, the car is often the last symbol of independence.
In trying to persuade a person to put away the car keys, you’ll be attempting to influence a person who is probably accustomed to giving advice, not taking it. Tactics that work…
LAY THE GROUNDWORK
If possible, start your campaign before the danger of driving becomes immediate. Even if your loved one seems to be driving well, it’s wise to suggest that he/she take a test to confirm the level of skill and/or take a refresher course for senior drivers. (AAA and many motor vehicle departments have information on the tests and courses.)
Advantage: These measures take some of the burden off you by letting drivers see their own shortcomings in a way that’s difficult to deny.
Push your loved one to take a test or refresher course if you notice…
Friends no longer want to ride with him.
Unexplained damage to the car, such as scratches, dents or broken outside mirrors.
Incidents of confusion on well-known roads.
An increase in accidents, no matter who was at fault. Reason:Accidents are often the result of a reduced ability to drive defensively.
AAA has a free program for PC users, Roadwise Review, that lets people use a home computer to test themselves in such areas as physical flexibility, memory, visual acuity and information processing speed.www.roadwisereview.com.
The AARP’s Driver Safety Program online course costs $15.95 for members and $19.95 for nonmembers and is aimed at people age 50 and older. You can complete the course at your own pace. Information: 888-227-7669,www.
It’s very common that a senior driver will balk at the idea of taking a test or refresher course. Countermeasures…
Offer to join the person and take the test or course together. (With AAA’s Roadwise Review, it is mandatory to take the test with someone else present in order to verify results.) The offer doesn’t always work, but it’s often successful.
Point out that most insurance companies give a discount to people who take the AARP course.
RELY ON INFLUENCERS
Despite a poor test and pleas from family members, some seniors still won’t give up driving. When that’s the case, it’s wise to ask for help from the people in authority whom they do listen to. Doctors are at the top of the list.
Contact your family member’s physicians and discuss the situation with them. Many doctors are willing to tell older patients how their diminished eyesight, loss of motor skills or effects of a disability can increase the risk of a serious accident.
Not every physician, however, is knowledgeable in this area.
Smart move: Give doctors a copy of Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers. The book, developed by the American Medical Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, gives doctors a checklist of conditions that impair driving ability.
Some of the conditions might not be obvious to doctors who haven’t dealt with the issue before.
Examples: Insomnia, which can cause drowsiness during the day, and foot problems, which can prevent the proper use of the brake and accelerator pedals.
The book, which is free, can be downloaded from the Internet or ordered for delivery by mail.
If doctors don’t succeed in persuading your loved one not to drive, turn to friends, relatives or members of the clergy for whom he/she has a deep respect.
Almost all elderly people — even those urged by doctors and confronted by evidence of diminished skill — use a powerful argument against turning over the car keys. They say that there’s no other way to get to places they have to go. This is a reasonable concern that should be respected.
If arguments about safety won’t overcome this concern, be prepared by knowing about alternative types of transportation that can make a car unnecessary.
My organization, the Beverly Foundation, lists more than 1,000 senior transportation programs. To see the list, go towww.beverlyfoundation.org/
Many elderly nondrivers require a combination of options…
Volunteer drivers. Hundreds of volunteer driver programs have started up around the country, and more are being created each month. Typically sponsored by a charitable organization, these programs generally supply drivers to seniors free of charge. Many religious institutions also provide volunteer drivers.
Also check your local departments of senior services, churches and interfaith volunteer groups. If there isn’t an appropriate option in your community, consider the possibility of promoting one.
Paratransit. That’s a term coined by federal officials for transportation systems for the disabled operated by many cities and counties throughout the country.
Depending on the jurisdiction, many minor disabilities associated with advanced age may qualify a person for paratransit.
Examples: Poor vision in one eye or lack of full mobility in a foot. To find out if a loved one would qualify, contact your local department of transportation.
Regular taxis. Taxicabs are an obvious option, especially in suburbs and other areas outside the city. Taxis can be a relaxing way to travel, almost like having a chauffeur. (That’s particularly true once you develop a relationship with a taxi company.)
The strongest argument is that taxis are a bargain. AAA estimates that the average cost of owning and operating a car is about $8,780 a year, or nearly $170 a week — enough to pay for many taxi rides.
Assisted-living apartments. If your loved one is contemplating a move, ask him to consider an assisted-living apartment complex. Many of them operate their own transportation system for regular trips to grocery stores, malls and medical centers.
Few people have quick success in persuading a senior to stop driving. But don’t be discouraged. Before giving up, remember that if other friends and family members had been more persistent, some of the people cited in statistics on fatal accidents to seniors would still be alive.
Bottom Line/Retirement interviewed Helen Kerschner, PhD, president and CEO of the Beverly Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization that advocates for senior transportation, www.BeverlyFoundation.org. Dr. Kerschner is the former president of the American Association for International Aging.
Home care counselors at Safe at Home Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care, including live-in care. We are an elder care agency providing Home Care in Oswego.