Hanging up the car keys is one of the most difficult transitions in an older adult's life. After all, from the time we first get a learner's permit, driving represents one thing beyond all else: freedom. For seniors who may already be dealing with feelings of loss of independence, limiting or stopping driving can be particularly hard to accept.
Still, when safety is at stake — either an older adult's or that of the other people on the road — there's no room for hesitation. The following signs may indicate that it may be time to stop driving for an older adult.
7 Signs it's time to stop driving
1. “Close Calls”
When incidences of near-crashes escalate, this may mean that seniors are experiencing anything from deteriorating eyesight to slower motor skills — any of which can lead to more “close calls.” Unfortunately, there's no way of predicting when near-misses will give way to a real accident. Waiting to find out, meanwhile, can have dangerous or even deadly consequences.
2. An Increase in Dents and Scrapes
Sure, we've all discovered the occasional dent or ding on our car — likely from a parking lot hit and run. However, when the blemishes start to accumulate, not only on cars, but also on mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, and fences, this may be a warning sign that your aging loved one's driving skills may not be as sharp as they once were.
3. Getting Lost
Everyone gets lost now and again, but in older adults this may happen with increased frequency — even in familiar locations. Not only does this indicate a potential cognitive decline, but it also increases the chances that seniors will wind up in distress and unable to access help while in an unknown area.
4. Difficulty Seeing Road Markers
While increased difficulty seeing everything from traffic signs to pavement markings may indicate that it's time for a new prescription, these symptoms may also indicate something more than that. A doctor can help you determine whether this issue is one of vision or cognition. Cognitive decline may also manifest in terms of misgauging distances at intersections and highway on-off ramps.
5. Slower Reflexes
Our reflexes naturally decline with age, which can lead to slower responses to unanticipated driving events. If your loved one's reflexes and response time seem slow, or if they're struggling to keep the pedals straight, these issues may demonstrate a serious safety concern with potentially tragic consequences — particularly in cases when a senior mistakes the brake for the accelerator.
6. Changes in Mood While Driving
Becoming easily distracted, struggling to concentrate, and increased incidences of road rage — as either the perpetrator or the beneficiary — may indicate that it's no longer safe for seniors to drive.
7. Increasing Physical Limitations
Aging bodies often suffer from range-of-motion and dexterity issues. If chronic pain or lack of mobility starts to interfere with a senior's ability to check the rear view mirror, stay in his lane, or use a turn signal, he may no longer be able to drive safely. Other physical changes which may impede a senior's inability to drive safely include vision and hearing problems.
Discussing your concerns about driving with an older adult can be difficult, but it's an important part of keeping him safe. One way to manage his reluctance is to be proactive about finding other acceptable transportation options, such as the bus, neighbor or senior shuttle. Another tactic involves pointing out the benefits of giving up driving, such as car and insurance savings.
Whichever direction you choose, be respectful throughout the conversation as you express your concerns and acknowledge his feelings, in return. While these conversations are anything but easy, the right approach can help you come to a mutual decision thereby easing the transition by fostering a sense of control. For more invaluable advice on senior caregiving, be sure to sign up for our mailing list.