Mobility is one of those things we take for granted. The sheer freedom of being able to hop in our car and drive to our chosen destination is probably appreciated most when we have to give it up. Driving represents independence. It opens up our connections and our community.
Inevitably, as our loved ones age, their ability to continue driving safely will start to wane. Age-related health issues like decreased vision, slower reaction times, loss of hearing and reduced coordination can all increase the risks of being behind the wheel.
Adjusting to life without a driver’s licence is often challenging and highly emotional for an elderly person. They can feel angry and frustrated, or even ashamed and anxious about how they’ll cope with this loss of mobility. When the decision to stop is made, or enforced, abruptly with no prior discussion or planning, these feelings are exacerbated. They may feel a real sense of loss, and when this is coupled with reduced social connectedness, it can lead to isolation and depression.
But there are simple things we can do to help minimise these potential effects for our loved one. The earlier we start having conversations and developing a plan to tackle this stage of life, the more positive we can make the experience for them. By finding out what being mobile means to them, and researching alternative transport options, you can support your loved one to maintain their social interests and hobbies, as well as their connection to their friend and family network and their community.
Here are three things you can do to start planning:
1. Check how they are coping on the road
- Drive with them. Every now and then, ask your loved one to drive you somewhere and check how they are managing. Are they missing turns, getting confused or not reacting quickly enough?
- Find out their driving limits. Ask them how confident they feel in different traffic conditions. If driving on freeways or at night is making them feel anxious, suggest they avoid doing these wherever possible.
- Check for close calls. Inspect their car and garage for any scratches or dents, and monitor any traffic infringement notices. These are all signs that could add up to a big risk on the road.
2. Ensure they are having regular health checks
- Ask them about eyesight and hearing tests. Every year, your loved one should have their eyesight and hearing properly assessed. Make sure their glasses prescription is current, and that these, as well as any hearing aids, are worn while driving.
- Talk to their GP. If you are concerned, ask their regular GP for advice on whether any medical issues or medication may affect their driving ability.
3. Most importantly, start a conversation about options
- Do some research first. Get an understanding of their weekly schedule of appointments, social appointments and other essential activities. Explore other ways to help them get there, such as public transport options, car pooling, shuttle services, or organising a driving roster with family and friends.
- Make the time to talk. Rather than leading with an overwhelming statement such as ‘I don’t think it’s safe for you to drive anymore’, try something that conveys that you’re in this together – as a team. For example, ‘If it’s getting more difficult to drive yourself, what’s the next best thing we could do?’
- Be prepared for an emotional response. It’s only natural that your loved one might feel scared at the prospect of stopping driving, so keep the conversation positive. Remind them how much you want them to age well, and that talking through options together is a way of keeping them safe and independent for longer.