Winter Driving: The Risk for Aging Adults
The issue of driving can be a delicate one. As our loved ones age, it can be difficult to reach consensus on the question of when to stop driving. Of course the goal is to balance safety and independence; however the fear of lost freedom may cause loved ones to take greater safety risks. The winter season can really pose an increased risk to those already showing some warning signs. Earlier sunsets mean it’s getting darker much earlier and visibility is greatly reduced. Ice and other inclement weather can cause hazardous conditions on the roads. Coupled with reduced reaction times and other impairments this season can be a recipe for disaster.
While it may seem best to “take the keys away” cold turkey, gradually reducing driving may be a more effective way for some individuals to become accustom to relying on others for transportation needs. The winter weather can be a good opportunity to have these conversations and try out offering increased help.
Winter Weather Driving Plan
The key to creating a plan to modify or stop driving is to develop it with the participation of your aging loved one and to do it before it is needed. Your plan can come in stages. For example you can start by creating a hazardous conditions plan where your loved one agrees to only drive between 10 AM and 3 PM when roads are free from ice and snow and to call for help with any transportation needs that occur outside of those conditions. Perhaps you will even develop a habit of checking in each week to go over the needs and social engagements.
Creating a Future Plan Together. The Earlier the Better
While a winter driving plan is an excellent starting place, a long-term plan for the future is an important next step. Give your loved one as much autonomy in the process of creating it. For example, you might start by asking them to define what it would look like for driving to no longer be a safe option for them. Ask your loved one to be specific in the types of behaviors that they view as unsafe etc. Ask about next steps, such as who they would like to hear from if family members begin to notice unsafe behaviors as defined by the aging loved one. Put down their thoughts in writing along with the roles that they would like family members to play. By documenting wishes before it is needed, the process can seem less threatening as it is not taking effect immediately. By letting your loved one participate and drive the conversation early on, you will be more likely to have their buy-in later down the road when it is time to stop driving.
Balancing the Needs
The driving conversation can be overwhelming for adult children to think about, not only because of the anticipated response, but because of the increased responsibility to meet the social and logistical needs for their aging parent. You may be asking, “How will I manage to get the groceries for two households, or get to the pharmacy before my board meeting?” Keep in mind, that there are home care services that can fill the gap and take the pressure off of you to “do it all”. In-Home Caregivers are able to help with transportation needs as well as other activities that are part of everyday living like grocery shopping, picking up meds, or cooking a meal. Creating a season of peace begins with increasing the safety of a loved one and decreasing your own stress.
Just remember the absolute freedom and initiation into adulthood you felt when you first got your driver’s license or your first car. To stop driving can feel like a loss of adulthood, so it is crucial that you infuse the discussion with deep respect for their need for independence and their ability to make choices. Before you begin the conversation, take time to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how your life rhythm would change if you were suddenly unable to drive. When you begin to talk from a place of empathy, you are better equipped to open the dialogue, listen to fears, express your concerns, and create solutions together.
Published on December 4, 2013.