How to Talk with Your Elderly Parent About Giving Up Their Driver’s License

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My grandmother had many good qualities, but bless her, she really was a terrible driver. Not particularly confident in her abilities, she would often drive too slowly, hesitantly pull into traffic, and leave her turn signal on too long. Even my mother—her own daughter—wasn’t comfortable being a passenger when grandma was behind the wheel!

As my gran grew older, her driving abilities got worse and worse. She began to suffer poor vision and poorer reflexes.1 This added to her anxiety about driving in general, creating a negative, self-perpetuating cycle. She would often have minor fender-benders. When she was at fault for an accident with a large tractor-trailer, we were lucky no one got hurt. Fortunately for us, her, and others on the road, it wasn’t hard to convince her that it was time to give up her driver’s license.

However, that doesn’t mean it was easy for my gran to do so. Many grown children with elderly parents are faced with this same problem. Surrendering a driver’s license often means dealing with a loss of independence and a fear of aging in general. If this sounds like your mom, dad, or other loved one, read on for how to deal with the issue.

Talking to Your Elderly Parents About Their License

Choose the right time to talk

Choose the best circumstances to discuss surrendering a driver’s license with your parent or parents. Get them settled and comfortable, preferably in a familiar place. Don’t have “The Talk” when they’re tired, cranky, hungry, et cetera. Invite other friends and relatives who are worried about your loved one. Make it a family affair so they can see how concerned everyone is about this issue. However, don’t have such a large group that your mom or dad feels overwhelmed. Five to six people is probably best. Sometimes, older adults will listen to recommendations by their physician when they’ll listen to no one else. So if you can have a doctor weigh in during an appointment or through a written report, that may help as well.

Explain why it’s dangerous

Your parent may be in denial about how bad their driving has become. As gently as possible, list specific concerns that prompted this talk. “Dad, I know you say you’re still safe to drive, but you’ve had three accidents in the past six months, one of which warranted a trip to the emergency room.”

If you’re having this type of dialogue at all, the chances are your parent could hurt themselves or someone else by continuing to drive.2 Many older adults are reluctant to give up their licenses because they don’t believe they’ll come to harm. However, they may be more open to the argument that it’s not them who will suffer, but their loved ones or innocent bystanders. For instance, if your mom or dad regularly transports your children in their vehicle, the latter could easily be injured in an avoidable crash. The same goes for other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Suggest alternatives

There’s no doubt that giving up a driver’s license means surrendering some measure of autonomy. However, it’s a far cry from being completely dependent or helpless. Suggest alternatives to your parents, such as meal delivery, escorted transportation, and getting rides from family or friends. Just because they can’t drive doesn’t mean they have to be trapped at home. Sometimes, looking at other options can help them get more comfortable with the idea of not driving themselves.

Giving Up a License Is a Big Step for Elderly Parents

Recognize that giving up a driver’s license may be a big step for your elderly parents. Approach the topic with compassion and sympathy, but also be firm. After all, the sooner they get out of this unsafe situation, the better things will be for everyone on the road—including them!

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. “How does the aging process affect driving ability?” http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/aging/aging-process/age-and-driving.htm
  2. “What Risks Do Older Drivers Pose to Traffic Safety?” 2007, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9272/index1.html
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