How to help elderly drivers limit or stop driving

Published 10:44 am Friday, February 17, 2012

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m worried about my father’s driving. At age 84, his driving skills have diminished significantly, but I know he’s bound and determined to keep going as long as he’s alive. What tips can you recommend that can help me help my dad stop driving?
Nervous Daughter
Dear Nervous,
For many families, telling an elderly parent it’s time to give up the car keys is a very sensitive and difficult topic. While there’s no one simple way to handle this issue, here are a number of tips and resources you can try to help ease your dad away from driving.
Take a ride
To get a clear picture of your dad’s driving abilities, the first thing you need to do is take a ride with him watching for problem areas. For example: Does he drive too slow or too fast? Does he tailgate or drift between lanes? Does he have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does he react slowly? Does he get distracted or confused easily? Also, has your dad had any fender benders or tickets lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on his vehicle? These, too, are red flags.
Start talking
After your assessment, you need to have a talk with your dad about your concerns, but don’t sound alarmed. If you begin with a dramatic outburst like “Dad, you’re going to kill someone!” you’re likely to trigger resistance. Start by gently expressing that you’re worried about his safety.
For tips on how to talk to your dad about this touchy topic, the Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offers some guides titled “Family Conversations with Older Drivers” and “Family Conversations about Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia & Driving” that can help, along with a online seminar called “We Need to Talk” that was produced by AARP. To access these free resources, visit safedrivingforalifetime.com.