This week’s Reader’s Question is about how to best handle a situation many family caregivers dread:

“I know it’s time for my mother to stop driving, but I don’t have the heart to discuss this with her. She only drives locally, and drives very slowly, so she thinks she’s perfectly OK. It makes me crazy, though, because I know her reflexes aren’t good. I keep seeing more scratches on the car that she can’t explain. She’ll say they must have happened while she was parked somewhere. She knows I’m worried about her driving, but she says it will destroy her if she loses this last vestige of independence.”

~ Anxious About Mom

 

My Response comes from many years of hearing the struggles my clients go through:

Dear Anxious,

While everyone’s circumstances are unique, one thing is universal: asking our parents to give up driving is one of the more difficult conversations to have. It is, however, one of the most important because it isn’t just about them. Driving, as we all know, impacts many people and potentially many lives, so it is a very necessary conversation in all of our lives when the time comes.

There are a few ways to address this very serious issue.

  1. You can be a passenger with your mother to assess how she’s driving. This gives you firsthand knowledge of her driving and gives you the opportunity to address the problems right away.
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  2. You can ask your mother how she feels driving. Is she aware that her abilities have changed?
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  3. If you have siblings, make sure all of you are on the same page so everyone is supportive of this change in your mother’s life.
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  4. If need be, you can always discuss her driving with her primary care physician (or ophthalmologist, or neurologist, etc.) when you attend her next appointment with her. Doctors will often be willing to address this issue, and their “independent medical expert” status means their edict is more likely to meet with cooperation, however begrudging it may be.
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  5. As a last resort, there is a test at most Department of Motor Vehicle offices that your mother can take, which will determine whether or not she is able to drive safely. If the answer is “No,” her license will be taken away permanently. The test has the drawback of usually being extremely expensive, but if she fails the test it also takes the decision out of your hands…and out of hers – because there’s no arguing with the DMV! At least you won’t have to be the “bad guy” if it comes to taking this definitive step.

 

When you have the conversation:

  1. Acknowledge that this is a big issue for your mother. Driving gives one an enormous sense of independence, and as physical abilities begin to wane, people want to hang on to whatever vestiges of independence they still have. Driving also makes one feel less isolated, so it’s imperative that you respect how significant this change is. Be sure to remind her that it’s not that she can’t go places, it’s just that she’ll be enjoying the services of a chauffeur.

  2. Be compassionate but firm. Allow your mother to express her feelings – however passionate or angry they may be. Do not take it personally!! This will be a huge adjustment for her initially, and you can acknowledge that with empathy. But continue to stress that it is for her (and others’) greater good.
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  3. Give her time to adjust to new ideas for transportation. Don’t rush in with reassurances as though the change will be easy, in an effort to minimize the adjustment period. Let her know that there are a variety of options for getting around other than driving herself, that you’ll help her learn about them so she can decide which ones she’s most comfortable with, and that you’ll help with any arrangements required to make it as convenient as possible.
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  4. Have some familiarity with the transportation options, including:
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    1. A personal driver she can call as needed (or, if she has an aide, adding that to the services provided) – that way someone can drive her wherever she needs or wants to go with one phone call.
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    2. Senior transportation services in her local area
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    3. Affordable alternative car services, such as Uber or Lyft
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    4. Contract with a local, reputable taxi company
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    5. You and/or your siblings, depending upon who is available at the time
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      Let her decide for herself which option she would like to choose!

This is an important issue and one that should not be taken lightly.

To minimize the emotional “fallout” and maximize your chances for success, please reach out for a short consultation with me if this feels too overwhelming…or if you get a lot of resistance. Talking over your particular circumstances, and hearing ideas that have worked for others before you dive in to the conversation, can make all the difference!

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