Aging brings difficult decisions. We all grow accustomed to doing things one way for most of our lives, and it can be a tough pill to swallow when our health forces us to change our habits. A controversial problem for many aging seniors, and their families, is when to give up driving. Most Americans have seen driving as a doorway to freedom, since they were teenagers. As adults we take the privilege of driving for granted, while we go about our day-to-day lives. Seniors sometimes choose to stop driving on their own, but others understandably hold on to the freedom for as long as they can. In those situations, seniors and family members face difficult conversations and tough revelations.
Older adults often cut back on their driving in stages. For example, they acknowledge a need to stop driving at night, or take only short, familiar trips. However, when the day comes that ones drivers license is taken away completely, it will most likely be an emotional one. They may be overcome with feelings of failure, dependency, confusion, and blame.
Still, the decision to encourage a senior to stop driving is ultimately one of safety. Eye problems like Macular Degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and the eye strain associated with aging are all common reasons why people stop driving. It is just as important to keep in mind though, that hearing, memory, and motion problems can lead to unsafe driving as well. Two common early warning signs of decreased driving ability are slower reaction time, and greater anxiety over driving. Seniors and their loved ones should monitor their driving habits when dealing with such medical issues. Some medications and medicine combinations can also make driving more dangerous.
It is never easy to help a loved one deal with the loss of driving in her or his life. The following are some general rules you can follow to ease the transition, and provide the greatest level of support possible:
- Treat the loss of a license as a true loss: downplaying the impact of losing a license will not help the senior in your life feel better about it. Listen and show emotional support, rather than trying to cheer them up.
- Make yourself available: some seniors resist offers of transportation because they do not want to be a burden. However, you can include your loved one in a way that is more comfortable. For example, when you are doing your own grocery shopping, invite them to do theirs at the same time.
- Strengthen the social circle: losing a drivers license can be a blow to a persons social life. Seniors without a drivers licenses may feel isolated. Check in often, and encourage your other loved ones to do the same.
- Familiarize yourself with public transportation: depending on where a person lives, public transportation can be a fantastic alternative to driving, or can seem daunting and inconvenient. Learn about the options available to seniors in your area, such as Dial-A-Ride, and senior discounts on buses and trains.