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My mom is almost 90 years old. She still lives at home and drives. I would like her to stop driving but she doesn't want to lose her independence. I'm not sure what to do...


Question:  My mom will be 90 years old in July. She still lives at home and drives. I would like her to stop driving but we live nine hours away and I cannot take her to all her appointments (she is still very social and active). Sometimes friends will drive her but she doesn't like to inconvenience anyone. We have tried the senior shuttle bus but she hates having to wait for them. I have asked her to move in with us but she refuses as it would be too much bother. I am tired of trying to help and being told that the only thing that would help would be to move there. There are no jobs in my husband's field of training there.

Dr. Amy:  Your mother is lucky to have an active social life. Good for her. And of course she doesn't want to give up her driving. No one likes to lose their independence—no matter what age. Many people's ability to drive falls off as they age—but many remain capable. You may already have a clear picture of her driving ability from driving with her. If not, it may be helpful to gather concrete evidence:

  • Is your mother's eyesight failing?
  • Does she take medication that may affect her driving?
  • Are there little dings and scratches on the car?
  • Has she been stopped by the police for traffic violations?
  • Does she suffer from dementia?
  • Has she had a number of near misses?
  • Does she lack mobility and can't turn to shoulder check before switching lanes?
  • Does she get lost more than she used to?

If you answer yes to even one of these questions, that's a sign it may be time to stop driving. I recommend talking to her about your concerns and the evidence you have gathered—and explore solutions that would help your mom to keep her independence. Talking about driving with an aging parent can be challenging. On the other hand, living with the guilt and regret were she to injure herself or another would be far more challenging. For both of you.

Were she to give up her car, could she then afford to take taxis? Could you and your family contribute to the cost? Could someone help her get more used to using the senior's shuttle—planning her days so the wait wouldn't be such a bother? Can she move closer to town so she could walk more—or take more taxis? If she is unwilling to give up driving voluntarily, you can involve her doctor or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The issue of driving, however, is really just the beginning. As your mother gets older, other issues will crop up. She may become ill or disabled. She may suffer a decline in cognitive ability. If you are her primary caregiver, sooner or later arrangements for her care will have to be made. If she doesn't want to move away from her home base and you cannot move, perhaps now is the time to start thinking creatively about how you can help your mother maintain her active lifestyle while remaining safe.

Never underestimate the power of listening with empathy, applying creativity, and showing that you understand. My father had stopped driving because he had macular degeneration and really couldn't see well. Six months after he stopped driving, he told me he was thinking of getting his driver's license again and buying another car. I reacted with shock. I was afraid he would hurt himself or someone else. But the way I responded made him defensive. I quickly realized that my father wasn't feeling heard or understood.

Right away I said, "Dad, I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what it is like to not be able to drive anymore. I love to drive and I know you did, too. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't drive anymore." My father then shared with me how hard it was to lose the independence of driving and how much he missed it. We talked about driving and what the loss of it was like for him. After that, he never brought up the idea of driving again. I believe it was because he had the opportunity to express his feelings and to know that someone understood what he was experiencing.

Truly, I think one of the greatest human needs is to feel heard and understood. Not agreed with, but understood. When we feel we have that we can handle just about anything!

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