The other day, I was on the phone with my friend Anna when she screamed, “Stop, Jim, stop! There’s a stop sign! Phew! That was close.”
She was a passenger in the car with her 80 something husband who refuses to relinquish the car keys. Most of the time, she cajoles him into letting her drive but sometimes, especially for trips around town, Jim insists on getting behind the wheel.
Anna knows Jim should not be driving. She’s tried hiding the car keys. He made a spare set which he hides from her. She’s thought of disabling his car. But, Jim is pretty handy and he’d have it up and running in no time. She has suggested less stressful routes. But, Jim knows how to get “there” and doesn’t want to go a “longer” way.
What Anna hasn’t done is talk to Jim. Her attempts to start a conversation have been rebuffed. He doesn’t want to discuss it and she doesn’t want to start an argument. She knows that being dependent on others to get where he wants to go would be devastating. For Anna and Jim and other husbands and wives and parents and children, it’s hard to have “the talk.”
Healthguide.org, a healthy aging help center, helps readers figure out when the time for “the talk” is right. Diminished strength, coordination, and flexibility, problems with vision and hearing, reduced range of motion, and forgetfulness may be signs that driving should be curtailed. If a driver has a few “close calls” like hitting the mailbox or begins receiving tickets or citations, or is driving erratically – too fast, no signals, sudden lane changes, it’s time.
It’s important to cover all the bases first. If hearing or vision is a problem, will a hearing aid or new glasses help? Can the manual transmission vehicle be replaced with one with an automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes? Are there slower roads? Can driving be done only in daylight? Is a senior driver refresher course available? Sometimes, solutions like these can extend a person’s driving time.
But, if adjustments can’t be made, it is time for “the talk.” The conversation should be respectful and helpful. Emphasize safety, not only of the driver but of others on the road. If possible identify options – public transit, senior shuttles, taxis, ridesharing or family, friends, and neighbors who would be willing to help out with transportation needs.
Anna is working up to “the talk.” She’s spoken to Jim’s doctor and is trying to find a professional who can evaluate Jim’s driving behavior. She’s going to bring in family members to reassure Jim of their support. They all love Jim and want him to stay active and involved. They just don’t want him driving.