Dec. 4, 2014—“Hey, mom! I’m worried about your driving” doesn’t sound as cheery as “Happy holidays!” But if you’re concerned about an older person’s driving skills, a supportive family holiday gathering could make this difficult conversation a little easier.
That’s why the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) designated this Dec. 1 through 5 as Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. It gives family and friends time to prepare for a discussion about safe driving—or giving it up—in advance .
Why aging affects driving
Just because someone is older doesn’t mean he or she should stop driving.
But skills needed for good driving, like fast reaction time or good eyesight, tend to decline with age. And older people are more likely than younger drivers to be taking multiple medications. Some of these drugs—either alone or in combination with others—can negatively affect driving ability.
No matter who is at fault in a car accident, risk of death or injury increases as a driver ages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like any other age group, however, older people need to go places . This means that taking away a driver’s license can in some ways take away a person’s independence—and a transportation solution may need to be found.
Keep that in mind as you prepare for the family talk.
Tips for having the talk
The support and insight of family—which can often be found during the holidays—can make it easier to make important decisions about an older relative’s driving. The AOTA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offer the following advice for families and friends who worry about an older person’s driving.
Get the facts. Ride with the person at different times of day and in different types of traffic. Observe what he or she does well and has trouble doing.
Look for other signs. Does your relative sometimes seem confused, forgetful or have trouble following instructions? Does he or she have trouble hearing or seeing? Any of these make driving a risk.
Have solutions at the ready. Come up with potential solutions for your loved one’s transportation needs. Do any local agencies offer transportation services? Can family members and friends volunteer driving services? Is public transit an easy and affordable option?
Have the talk. Start the discussion by talking about how much you care about your relative’s safety. Include the above information in the conversation. Listen to the person’s fears and concerns.
Seek an outside evaluation. Ask a physician to recommend a driver rehabilitation specialist (often an occupational therapist) who can offer an in-depth, outsider’s evaluation of your loved one’s driving.
If you’re planning on discussing driving ability with a loved one, the NHTSA has a free step-by-step guide to preparing, planning and having this important—and potentially life-saving—talk.