Driving is a source of freedom and independence for our aging loved ones. But over time, physical and mental changes can make it unsafe for them to operate their motor vehicle.
Beth Koster, coordinator of MU Health Care’s Keep the Keys program, said family members play a key role in noticing these changes and helping their loved ones retire from driving. However, they should approach this role with care, compassion and proper planning.
“Driving retirement can come as a shock, and it can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression,” Koster said. “Nobody wants to lose their independence, and nobody wants to take away their loved one’s independence. It’s a good idea to plan ahead for this possibility.”
Koster said to follow these tips when helping a loved one retire from driving:
- Observe their skills: “Don’t assume a person can no longer drive based solely on their age,” Koster said. “You need to actually observe them. Pay special attention to their ability to navigate intersections, maintain the flow of traffic, stay in their lane and merge onto busy streets. Make a list of any issues you notice, and use this list when speaking with them about driving retirement.”
If you cannot personally ride along with your loved one, Koster recommends encouraging that person to schedule an appointment with a Mizzou Therapy Services occupational therapist for a formal driving test.
- Have a careful conversation: If your loved one needs to retire from driving, enlist a trusted friend or family member to break the news and lead the difficult conversation.
“Pick someone that your loved one will hear better than others — someone whose opinion they trust and respect,” Koster said. “Avoid taking an accusatory tone. We have found that ‘I’ statements work better than ‘you’ statements. For example, instead of saying, ‘You are an unsafe driver,’ say, ‘I am concerned about your safety.’ ”
- Create a care calendar: Your loved one will need assistance getting around town after retiring from driving. Make sure multiple friends and family members are available to offer rides or coordinate transportation services.
“We suggest putting together a care calendar that lays out which friends, family members and community organizations are helping your loved one on which days,” Koster said. “Review and reassess your care calendar periodically. Take note of what is working and what needs to change, and be sure to ask your loved one for his or her input.”