Your mom is probably a safe driver — most seniors are. She wears her seat belt, follows the speed limit, and doesn’t drink and drive.
However, she might also have arthritis, which makes turning the steering wheel painful; or weaker muscles, which restricts her ability to press the brake; or vision impairment, which makes reading the speedometer difficult.
When you have an aging parent, it’s normal to ask the question, “Should Mom still be driving?” You want her to be independent. But you also want her — and the people around her — to be safe, even if she is just driving to church and the grocery store.
If you’re worried about your parent’s driving safety, here’s a look at some age-related changes that can make driving difficult as well as other warning signs your mom or dad should enter “driving retirement.”
Any driver who struggles to see, regardless of age, will have a hard time identifying hazards, road signs, and obstacles up ahead or around their vehicle.
Does your parent have macular degeneration or glaucoma? Can they see over the steering wheel? Does driving at night make them nervous?
Make sure your parent has their eyes checked for vision changes, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. This will help prevent falls, too.
Some health conditions can affect your loved one’s driving agility and judgment, including:
But your dad doesn’t have to enter driving retirement just because he has Parkinson’s or arthritis. Instead, he should consider retiring when Parkinson’s or arthritis causes stiffness that’s so severe it impairs reaction time.
If you’re worried about your parent, talk to their doctor about the issue of driving safety.
Hearing loss usually occurs gradually as you age. Is your parent able to hear horns, screeching tires, sirens, and other sounds that would normally put someone on high alert?
Make sure your parent has regular hearing tests, and if they need a hearing aid, make sure they use it when driving.
Medication Side Effects
Does your parent take any medications? Many medications have side effects that might affect driving safely, including drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, and tremors. Combining certain medications can also impair driving ability.
If your loved one has many prescriptions, and especially if they’re antianxiety drugs, narcotics, or sleeping pills, talk to their doctor about the drugs and their possible side effects and drug interactions.
Reluctance to Drive
Has driving become stressful, confusing, or exhausting? Does your parent seem tense or complain about getting lost after driving? Are they declining invitations to social events that require driving at night?
If so, your loved one might be aware of their own limitations and have some anxiety about driving.
Empower them to take steps to avoid an accident. Consider posing a what-if: “What if one day you don’t feel as confident behind the wheel anymore? Have you thought about what driving retirement looks like for you?”
20 Warning Signs
- Drifting into other lanes
- Straddling lanes
- Making sudden lane changes
- Ignoring or missing stop signs and traffic signals
- Increased confusion while driving in traffic
- Braking or stopping abruptly without cause
- Accelerating suddenly without reason
- Coasting to a near stop amid moving traffic
- Pressing simultaneously on the brake and accelerator pedals while driving
- Difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, and other vehicles
- Increasing levels of anxiety while driving
- Driving significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
- Backing up after missing an exit or turn
- Difficulty reacting quickly and/or processing multiple stimuli
- Problems with back/neck flexibility and turning to see traffic/hazards around the car
- Getting lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
- Failing to use turn signals or keeping signals on without changing lanes
- Increased “close calls” and “near misses”
- Receipt of two or more traffic citations or warnings in the past two years
- Dents and scrapes on their car or on surrounding objects where they drive and park at home, such as fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs
So What If Mom Should Stop Driving?
Talking with aging parents about driving retirement isn’t easy. It’s best to have the conversation proactively — here’s how to get prepared for this not-so-easy conversation — rather than waiting for a crisis to occur.
If you keep in mind that your parent is probably struggling with major life changes and have a game plan ready to help the transition seem smoother, you’ll increase the likelihood of finding solutions that balance the importance of safety with their need for independence.
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