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Talking to aging loved ones about giving up driving

Age is only a number. We are only as old as we feel.

These are truisms, sure, but they also reflect the very real sense in which we can maintain our well-being, health and vitality well into late age.

For older drivers, the independence that comes from driving means a great deal. Studies have repeatedly shown that older drivers find freedom and self-esteem in their ability to drive. Overall health improves when older drivers can go to the store and visit friends and loved ones in their cars, on their own.

It is also important to note that age, by itself, does not mean a person is not a safe driver.

But driving can also be riskier for older Americans. Older adults account for one in ten of all people injured in motor vehicle accidents, and are involved in 17 percent of all fatal accidents.

Knowing the risks of driving are important. While difficult, a conversation about being able to safely drive may save lives. With that in mind, the Geriatrics Society and the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency recently updated its guide to assessing risk in older adults. The full guide is aimed at medical professionals, but anyone with aging parents may benefit from an overview.

Risk assessments for older drivers

On Feb. 16, the NHTSA and GSA released their updated guide with the aim of promoting health and well-being among older drivers through accident prevention.

Compiled by physicians, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and pharmacists, the updated guide notes that:

  • Doctors should examine older patients yearly regarding driving habits and ability.
  • Doctors should speak to older patients before the driver loses driving privileges.
  • Driving involves a wide array of skills; driving ability should be considered in light of a full assessment of visual acuity, perception and cognition.

You can find the full text of the GSA guide here.

Talking to your aging loved one about driving

A study in 2013 found that talking about driving was the single most difficult conversation to have with an aging loved one - even more difficult than having a conversation about last wishes and funeral arrangements.

There are several helpful online guides about talking to aging loved ones about ceasing driving. General tips include:

  • Giving time and space to the conversation; let the older individual approach the problem on his or her own.
  • Not expecting immediate acknowledgment of the need to cease driving; approach the first conversation as the beginning of a discussion.
  • Acknowledging the difficulties stopping driving will have on an aging parent.

The good news is that studies have shown aging adults are willing to give up the keys when it is appropriate to do so. If approached about the topic conscientiously, aging loved ones are likely to be willing to discuss alternatives to driving.

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