Having the Difficult Aging and Driving Conversation with your Elderly Parent(s)
Talking with your aging parents about lifestyle changes can be a difficult topic to approach. It’s always better to keep lines of communication open with your parents and broach the subject before there is a crisis that requires it. Keep in mind that it may take multiple conversations for your parents to adjust to the idea of needing more help. Therefore, planning ahead with your siblings to have these conversations and present a united front will help ease your parents into these prospective changes.
Here are 10 tips to help you get the conversation started:
1. General Guidelines
Organize your thoughts on paper
Discuss them first with your siblings
Keep an open mind and consider a range of options
2. Be respectful and considerate
Try to put yourself in your parent’s shoes and let them know you care and want what’s best for them
Be a good listener both to your siblings and your parents
Don’t consider yourself the “parent” or tell them that you “know what’s best”
3. Who will be there and where will this happen?
Involve everyone on your family who should be there (now with COVID it may be a virtual meeting for some)
Allow plenty of time so your parents can focus on the important conversation
4. Do a practice run with your siblings or others who care about your parents
Especially if you are nervous to have this conversation-run it past someone who may be impartial-they may be able to give you a different perspective to help present the information more acceptably
5. Use conversation starters to ease into the subject
“I noticed you seem to be more tired than usual. Is there a way we could make things easier for you?”
Mention how you admire what they’ve been able to accomplish in their retirement. Ask for advice on how you can try to do the same. It may open a host of important talking points.
Use a story of someone else’s such as a friend or neighbor going through difficult times to start a conversation. “I know your neighbor was having difficulty getting the help they needed to stay in their home. What do you think we can do so that doesn’t happen to you? What are your long term wishes? I don’t want to pry, but it would give both of us peace of mind to know we have a plan should we need one.”
6. Discuss issues with your parents continuing to drive
One of the things you can do to analyze the situation yourself is to ask your parents to go for a ride in their car with one of them driving. This will allow you to assess their driving habits. Do they come to a full stop? Do they look both ways at the stop sign? If you see issues, it can open up a frank conversation about the future of their driving.
Suggest they take a safe driving course with you if you are over age 55. One such course is offered by AARP. You can check their website at https://www.aarpdriversafety.org/
7. Stay calm and be the bigger person
Sometimes there may be family members who are in denial of your parents need for help
Be kind and understanding when having these difficult discussions
8. Share educational Information
9. Meet with an expert if necessary
Some family members may not agree with you so you might want an impartial expert
Offer to go together with your parents to a doctor appointment where they can help facilitate an open discussion among all of you
10. Remind your siblings that these conversations may be difficult but necessary to prevent harm to your parents or others if they continue to drive when it is not safe to do so.
If all of those interventions fail to rectify the driving situation, here are some other suggestions:
Anonymously report them to the DMV
Speak confidentially to their Doctor and ask him to write a letter that you can take to the DMV
Hide or “lose” their keys
Disable the car
The bottom line is that these may seem extreme, but they will keep your loved one and others on the road safe. Often times, some family members are in denial of the need for change. Being persistent and enforcing this is difficult but shows that you care enough about your parents to do the right thing even when it’s painful.
Author: Mary Kay Bolam, RN
Title: Director of Home and Community Service