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Talking to dad about driving


Question: I run a support group for people who are caring for their parents or being a caregiver to a loved one. One question that keeps coming up in my group is how to get a parent to stop driving. Can you give us some advice on this? It is hard being a parent to your parent. Thank you!

Dr. Amy: Good for you for organizing a support group. Our communities wouldn't be able to function without family caregivers. They need all the support they can get—and then some. Driving is a very touchy subject, isn't it? No one likes to lose their independence—no matter what age—and having a car in much of the US is key to independence.

Your caregivers may already have a clear picture of their parents’ driving ability. But if not, it’s always helpful to gather concrete evidence:

  • Is their eyesight failing?
  • Do they take medication that may affect their driving?
  • Are there little dings and scratches on the car?
  • Have they been stopped by the police for traffic violations?
  • Do they suffer from Dementia?
  • Have they had a number of near misses?
  • Do they lack mobility and can’t turn to shoulder check before switching lanes?
  • Do they get lost more than they used to?

If the answer to even one of these questions is yes, that’s a sign it might be time to stop driving—and certainly time to have a conversation about their concerns and ways to ensure they and other drivers are safe.

My father 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!

I always encourage people to talk to their parent about their concerns, their feelings, and the evidence they have gathered. Then explore solutions that would help them keep their independence while also keeping them—and others—safe. Never underestimate the power of listening with empathy, applying creativity, and showing that you understand.

Talking about driving with aging parents can be challenging. On the other hand, living with the guilt and regret were they to injure themselves or someone else would be far more challenging.  Here are some questions for caregivers to explore:

  • Were the parents to give up the car, could they then afford to take taxis?
  • Could the family contribute to the cost?
  • Could someone help them get more used to using the senior’s shuttle—and planning their days so the wait wouldn’t be such a bother?
  • Can they move closer to town so they could walk more—or take more taxis?

If it is clear that the parents are not safe to drive and yet are unwilling to give up driving voluntarily, caregivers can involve their doctor or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

One last thought in closing. I believe that we are never parents to our parents. Even though we are their caregivers and they may become quite dependent on us and even childlike, our parents are always our parents and we their children. That’s what makes these conversations challenging, but I think it’s important to respect this relationship.  Thanks for writing!

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Posted by Sheila Banks Dowdell

    I took care of my mom who had ALZ and now my husband has ALZ..the easiest way to get them to surrender their driver's license is when you go to the Dr. with them, write a note to Dr. and have nurse put it on front of chart, telling Dr. that they should no longer be driving...when he comes in the room to see you & the patient, he will tell them something , like, he heard from the BMV and they will no longer allow you to drive or renew your license. It works so smoothly it is unbelievable....and they will listen to their DR. and not is really a Godsend.


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