Many children of aging parents face a challenging decision: is it time to demand that your parent no longer get behind the wheel, or are you being overly cautious and wrongly limiting their mobility? The is one of the most crucial moments you’ll experience as a caregiver: it may be the first time you have to step in and request that your parent make a major life change for their safety (and that of others). While there is no pre-defined age threshold that signifies it’s time to hand over the car keys, there are warning signs that may prompt you to initiate the often difficult but necessary discussion about other transportation options for your aging parent:
- Challenges with Vision: If your aging parent has been diagnosed with conditions such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma, you will understand right away that your loved one’s vision is severely impaired. However, in cases where there is no diagnosis, but you observe such challenges as difficulty in maintaining their lane or in responding to road signs or traffic lights, this may indicate a decline in vision.
- Memory Challenges: Because the memory decline associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is often misunderstood, it’s important to understand that these diseases cause those affected to lose orientation and become confused at a moment’s notice. If your loved one has not been formally diagnosed but you notice such challenges as getting lost in familiar places, becoming very confused or being easily distracted behind the wheel, be sure to set an appointment to discuss these concerns.
- Dents and Scrapes: If you begin to notice a number of scratches, scrapes and dents on the vehicle, fence, garage or several close calls, your loved one may be a danger to themselves or others while driving.
- Physical Decline: Pain or stiffness in the back, neck, arm or leg areas can create real problems while driving. After all, drivers must still look over the shoulder or use the rearview mirror while behind the wheel, so a lack of dexterity can be especially detrimental while attempting to drive.
- Side Effects of Medication: While medications are prescribed by doctors to effectively treat certain illnesses, these medications can produce side effects within the individuals taking them. Often, the list of known possible side effects is addressed briefly at the time the medication is being prescribed. However, if your loved one takes a number of medications, there is also a risk that certain medications taken together may produce an undesirable response within the body. Your loved one’s pharmacist can often research this information for you. Some side effects impair an individual’s ability to drive, so pay attention to this and respond appropriately if your loved one seems to be having trouble.
While an active and independent senior adult may find the change especially difficult, feeling that increasingly more aspects of their lives are outside their control, there are other viable options you can offer to help your loved one maintain a sense of independence:
- Community or Senior Transit Systems: Your local area Agency on Aging can usually coordinate trips for senior transit to places like the doctor’s office or grocery store. Certain places of worship also have a system for transporting individuals who cannot drive themselves to different places within the community. Some medical facilities have also expanded their service offerings to include transport to and from appointments for patients unable to drive themselves.
- Public Transportation: Depending on where you live, the public transit system may be developed enough for your loved one to get around to different areas. Lower fares are usually offered for senior adults.
- Create a Ride Sharing Program with Neighbors: This is a great way to increase the sense of community, build up social relationships and barter with others in your network. For example, your loved one may not be capable of driving, but might be able to help with other domestic tasks. Plus, the camaraderie formed is tremendous for older adults.
- Get Around the Good Old Fashioned Way: Walking or cycling is a great form of exercise and helps reduce the risk of certain diseases. It’s an excellent way to get around on a warm, sunny day. Just remember that while some seniors can still walk or bike when they shouldn’t drive, there are safety considerations even for these simpler forms of transportation too.