Caring for an Elderly Driving Relative

Have you been concerned for a while about your elderly driving relative driving their car? Perhaps you have noticed some things that troubled you. You may even have been in the car with them and had some personal experience of trouble ahead. Or perhaps they themselves have mentioned some difficulties driving recently.

Here at Vermont Aged Care we know how important transport is to our residents. And we also know that their lives would be very limited if they could not get out and about. That is why we would like to offer you some helpful tips concerning caring for an elderly relative and driving.

The benefits of driving versus not driving

For a person who has been driving for their entire adult life, facing the loss of their vehicle is a very difficult decision. Whether you have to initiate the conversation, or they expressed concern to you, the subject ofelderly driving will have to be broached at some stage.

A lot will depend upon their age, the condition of their health and the benefits versus the risks involved. If they have broached the subject with you, it will be easier to have this conversation. They will be looking for your support and your suggestions going forward. If you need to initiate the conversation with them, this may prove to be a little more difficult.

Let’s begin with the assumption that they have raised the subject of elderly driving with you. Ask them what their reasons are for being concerned about continuing driving. The following could be classified as the early warning signs.

Health issues

They might be worried about some experiences they have had recently while driving. They might have noticed that they are struggling to read street signs. In that case a visit to their eye doctor should quickly identify the problem. Perhaps they’re having difficulty with their hearing. This is particularly dangerous when parking. If they cannot hear the sound of other peoples horns they could drive out into traffic.

Similarly, their motor reflexes may not be as sharp, which would be dangerous if they had to act swiftly to avoid an accident. If they are suffering from arthritis, turning their neck may be painful. They might suddenly have realised that steering is becoming difficult because of joint pain in their hands. Managing the pedals may also be becoming difficult if they have knee or ankle pain. Or they may be concerned about forgetfulness and disorientation. However, all these things are red flags and need to be taken seriously. In this case they will be asking you for your opinion and your help.

Your contribution

If on the other hand, you are the one who needs to have a chat with your elderly loved one, tread gently at first. For instance you could begin by saying that you are concerned about a few things concerning their driving. It may not happen, but be prepared for a possible negative reaction.

Although they are now weaker than you, they are still mum or dad who used to be in charge. Respect and diplomacy will go a long way to preventing a family war. Be specific about your concerns. Mention real events. For instance that could be about a few near misses when you were in the car. Perhaps driving too close to the car in front of them because they were having difficulty judging the distance. Perhaps they went up onto the curb. Or they did not take the necessary precautions in the supermarket parking lot. Was it difficult applying the brakes when the lights turned amber? Or did they forget the way to a friend’s house they had been to many times before?

If they become upset it might be wise to postpone the rest of the conversation. However the next time you will have to come better prepared. Not with accusations but alternatives.

The alternatives

If the alternatives to elderly driving are presented positively, as a new way of adjusting to their situation, they will probably be better received. Start by pointing out the relief they will feel when the anxiety is removed. They will no longer be a danger to themselves or to others. They will never get lost again. The financial savings will be substantial. Between the family, friends, taxis and other means of public transport they will not be house bound. Make sure you reassure them that they will not be a burden to you. That you understand you will be in this situation one day too.

Their main concern will likely be loss of freedom. Be prepared to interact with them frequently in the beginning. As options are found they will begin to see that they will not be abandoned to a life of boredom and loneliness. Reassure them that the family will rally around and include them in whatever they wish to partake of. Trips to the beach, picnics in the park, rides to family events such as birthdays, weddings, Christmas parties etc will be organised to always include them. Instead of a loss they will become fun car rides without the stress or the danger.

The use of public transport

It is no longer unusual for some people not to have utilised public transport for a very long time. Perhaps even since their schooldays. Offer to go with them at first. After all, ticketing, modern train systems and even modern buses are very different today. A few practice runs with you there for comfort and encouragement will probably be all they need to get started. Going to events with friends should take care of any slight memory lapses. VicRoads and Public transport Victoria have websites that deliver a lot of helpful information.

Like many drivers they probably gave up walking a long time ago. Rediscovering the joys of stopping to smell the roses is one benefit. Exercising and filling their lungs with air will be so beneficial. The local council will have a list of walking groups. They have levels which are suitable for everybody who wants to join. What a wonderful opportunity to make new friends. Furthermore, you will probably notice an improvement in their health. Make sure to mention it. This will help to dissipate any regrets or looking back.

Whatever our age, we all have to encompass change as part of growing older. As they adjust to a slower pace of life, many elderly people reflect upon how hectic life had become. Giving up the car must not be seen only as a negative. Otherwise the prospect will be depressing. Instead focusing on the positive aspects such as more time for hobbies such as gardening, crafts or letter writing is more helpful. Whatever they enjoy doing, now there will be more time.

Recommended Reading

1. VicRoads – Friends and Family of Older Drivers (https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/safety-and-road-rules/driver-safety/older-drivers/friends-and-family-of-older-drivers)

2. Travel and Transport Advice (https://www.seniorsonline.vic.gov.au/services-information/savvy-savings/travel-and-transport)

This blog is intended to provide helpful advice. Please speak with your family GP for personalised information or, for specialist advice & support in Melbourne Australia, please contact VERMONT AGED CARE:

770 Canterbury Road, Vermont, Victoria, Australia 3133

Phone: +61 03-9873 5300. Email: info@vermontagedcare.com.au

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