Imagine the thrill of the open road, a clear schedule and the freedom of driving anywhere you choose, whenever you choose. Even the opportunity to drive short distances here and there, running errands, visiting friends, attending social functions, etc., all of these are signs of autonomy and independence. When age-related side effects force seniors to hand over their keys, this sense of autonomy and independence simply disappears.
The loss of driving privileges can be one of the most devastating experiences for seniors. Never mind the health problems that have plagued them along the way. Forget about minor losses in mobility or memory; those are often taken in stride or with only minor complaint. However, the loss of a driver’s license and the right to drive a car strikes at the heart of a senior’s sense of identity, and this can have serious consequences.
6 Tips to Help Seniors Adjust to Life Without Driving
- Start the conversation early. The sooner you begin having conversations with your loved ones about driving and the aging process, the better. The important thing to stress is that safety is the top priority; the safety of the senior you love as well as the safety of other drivers and pedestrians on the road. Spend time reviewing the Senior Driving Website. It’s a wonderful resource and conversation starter for senior drivers and their families.
- Register for a senior driving assessment. Don’t make yourself the bad guy. Put it in objective hands. Contact the DMV or the AAA club in your area and ask about senior driver’s assessments. These assessments are designed to evaluate a senior’s driving skills, response times, vision, etc., to determine whether or not they are safe to drive. Sometimes, the senior is given the green light, sometimes they are given tips and recommendations and/or are referred to a refresher course, and other times it is determined the senior should no longer sit behind the wheel. A professional driving assessment puts the onus of judgement in professional hands, which can take the pressure off you.
- Let them remain in control of the situation. If it’s decided that a senior is better off being a passenger, he/she should still have control of the situation. Ask what your senior prefers: to keep the car and hire a driver, sell the car and pay for a driver who has his/her own car, rely on public transportation, or any combination of the options. The point is that losing the keys to the car feels like a loss of control and independence, so allowing the senior to have control over the solution is important.
- Research public transportation options. Do a thorough study of public transportation options in your area. Sometimes, the idea of taking a bus or a van is preferable to having a driver because the senior can maintain a sense of autonomy and privacy that is sacrificed when a driver knows everywhere you go and everything you do.
- Maintain their regular schedule. Another way to foster a sense of independence and autonomy is to ensure that seniors are able to maintain their regular schedule. Taking away their keys should not mean they are homebound and no longer able to participate in the activities they love. Find a way to accommodate their exercise classes, religious observations, clubs, meetings, etc. This includes an emphasis on their social outings and events. Keeping active will make the loss of the driver’s seat much less painful.