Many people avoid thinking or talking about giving up driving. Just bringing up the topic can cause strong reactions. In reality, this topic may take many conversations to find a solution. Being prepared before talking will help this process go more smoothly. This includes an awareness of your own concerns, as well as others’ points of view, and objective awareness of the driver’s functional status. You may want to consult with outside resources, like a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, or religious/spiritual leader who is familiar with the driver, the family, and the situation.
In a crisis, keeping communication open is very important. This is key to reaching a resolution everyone can live with. Speaking openly about your concerns is very important, but beginning this conversation can be difficult. Here are a few conversation starters, adapted from the Hartford guide “We Need to Talk…Family Conversations with Older Drivers”.
“Driving isn’t what it used to be.”
Drivers of every age experience frustration with some part of driving: road conditions, other drivers, traffic, etc. By using this common ground to bring up changes in driving, the conversation is less personal.
“I just read that it costs an average of $20 a day to own a car!”
Often, people immediately think of the drawbacks when considering giving up driving. But also consider the money that would be available without having to pay for gas, insurance, and maintenance for a car.
“How did (friend or relative) stop driving?”
Chances are that older drivers know friends or relatives who have already gone through driving retirement. Asking about another person’s situation can help start your conversation.
“I worry about your safety, and the safety of others.”
Talking about the overall public safety may help the driver see the larger picture, rather than just the current situation.
When a person is diagnosed with any kind of dementia, it is not a question of if they should stop driving, but when. As their disease progresses, they lose the ability to react appropriately and plan driving decisions first. The memories of how to mechanically operate a car can remain into later stages, when they are no longer capable of driving safely.
If your loved one has dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, she or he may still be able to participate in a discussion about driving retirement. In the very early stages, some, but not all, dementia patients are able to drive safely. This is a good time to talk about transportation alternatives and future plans. But because dementia is progressive, he or she will continue to lose mental and physical abilities. By the mild to moderate stages, the required ability to process information and react appropriately is gone. Remembering or understanding the reasons they cannot drive may become a problem. Knowing what stage your loved one is currently at can help you decide how to approach the situation. Some physicians write “prescriptions” for patients with dementia that say “Stop driving”. Having a respected authority figure write that “order” can help some people understand that driving is now off limits. (www.thehartford.com/alzheimers).
Depending on how the initial discussion goes, there are many possibilities for what you decide to do next. Remember, there are two paths to consider: