Several months ago, I was interviewed for a magazine article on the subject of seniors and driving and an uncomfortable question came up. “When should we take away our aging parents’ driving license,” I was asked.
I was taken aback by the question, because I never thought about the subject in those terms. “Never,” I replied. Taking away the keys to the car is the only option to consider, and even that is only under extreme cases. There are seniors deep into their eighties, or even nineties, that are fully functional behind the wheel. There isn’t a mandatory age after which they are prevented from driving – as long as their vision, hearing and reflexes are good.
It must be extremely difficult for a fully alert and able person to give up something they have done most of their life that gave them independence and pleasure. Yet most of us only consider the safety issue when confronted with the dilemma of weighing when to end our fathers’ and mothers’ access to a car. We do not pay much attention to the psychological and emotional issues arising from the decision to stopping their driving.
I recently wrestled with this very issue with my own mother. An eighty-eight year old woman, my mother has reached the point where I believe she should give up her car. The lease on the car has expired, forcing my brothers and myself to make a decision: should we lease her new car or essentially cut her off. My mother was very forceful about voicing her opinion. She wanted, no needed a new car. I sat down with her a week before her lease expired to review the situation.
The fact is that my mother has been using the car less and less. My brothers or I drive her around to most of her doctor appointments. Even when she goes for a drive in her own car, most of the time, my younger brother is behind the wheel. But it made her feel good just to have the car parked in front of her house. Of course she did not see it that way.
There is no question that as we age we are forced to give up parts of our old life, whether through physical changes — such as giving up tennis, running, or reading if our vision is impaired — or financial changes — moving to smaller place, reducing travel, or giving up a car. It is not easy. A sense of helplessness or hopelessness may follow. It is important that we all are aware of these feelings that our aging parents are experiencing, and provide a supportive environment for them, reassuring them about the changes in their life.
When you are faced with this issue with your own parents, please consider the following tips:
- Give some time for them to adjust to the change in lifestyle and the loss of their driving privileges.
- Talk to them about the situation, so the decision is mutual and not imposed on them.
- If your parent will not be willing to consider the subject, introduce to a neutral person, whether a friend, clergy member, doctor, etc.
In my mother’s case, I have asked her to try to go without a car for three months, and see if she can live without one. If she absolutely cannot, we will see our way to provide her with one. She agreed. We provided her with adjustment time, allowing her time to get used to the fact that there is no car parked in front of her house. And if we are there to drive her, as we were doing in the last year anyway. In a sense we can steer her way of thinking to realize she doesn’t need the car anymore after all. She may not miss the car physically, though she may miss it emotionally.
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