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To Drive Or Not To Drive, When That Becomes The Question For Seniors

From the moment we pass our driving test as a teenager, well into the next several decades, the ability to drive represents freedom, independence and pride.  This is something we all relish and often times don’t want to see disappear.  However, there comes a point in our lives when this ability may cause us stress and worry when dealing with an aging parent, grandparent, family member, or close friend.   There are different ways to approach this sensitive subject with seniors, and warning signs to watch out for that signal it may be time to retire the keys of a loved one.  Retiring the car keys does not mean retiring independence and freedom; it can actually bring about many positive changes, while eliminating stress, anxiety and safety hazards. 

Risk Factors of Aging That Can Affect Driving Ability:

  • Visual Decline – Vision declines naturally with age and this can alter a senior’s depth perception and judging of speed while driving, making it difficult to navigate the roads.  This can also make road signs and markings difficult to read and see for seniors.
  • Hearing Loss – “Approximately one-third of adults over age 65 are hearing impaired” according to Seniors Guide Online.  This can result in not hearing emergency vehicles, honking, and/or alerts from large trucks and trailers that are maneuvering the roads.
  • Limited Mobility – Often times with age there is a greater chance of decreased mobility.    This can limit a senior’s ability to turn his or her head to check for oncoming traffic, to change lanes, and to see what is around him, or her, on the road, or highway. 
  • Medications – Many older adults are taking medications and many of these can affect reflexes, alertness and the senses.  This can cause a delayed reaction time while driving and can result in accidents and unsafe driving conditions. 

Maybe your aging loved one still insists on driving, but if you see any of the signs below, it may be time to discuss other transportation options:

  • Abrupt changes in driving – erratic lane changes, quick to break, random acceleration.
  • “Close calls” happen at a higher frequency.
  • Forgetting to use the turn signals.
  • Driving on the shoulder, or the wrong side of the road.
  • Mobility issues – not being able to look over his/her shoulder, not being able to move his/her foot back and forth between the gas pedal and brake, or not being able to maneuver his/her hands as well on the steering wheel.
  • Signs of nervousness or angst by the driver and not understanding why other people are honking at him/her with frustration.
  • Slower reaction time to other drivers, road signals and signs.
  • Drifting into other lanes and getting lost on a more frequent basis.

Addressing these issues of driving and presenting other transportation options can often be a difficult conversation met with resistance by seniors.  However, if you present the topic of retiring the keys in a positive light with patience, a new understanding can often times be found.  By explaining the following, it can show seniors the positive benefits of finding other modes of transportation.

Senior Benefits of Retiring the Car Keys:

  • By letting a friend, family member, caregiver, or retirement community provide transportation, seniors are increasing their safety and eliminating accidents and hazards.
  • If driving causes anxiety and stress, coupled with nerves, older adults eliminate all of those feelings by allowing a senior residence, friend, or loved one to provide transportation for them.  Who wants to continue to do something that causes more feelings of uneasiness and strife than calm and ease?
  • With gas and car insurance prices constantly increasing, relinquishing driving can increase savings for seniors.  By using other forms of transportation provided by others, a senior living retirement community, or caregiver, seniors are saving tremendously on gas, insurance, registration fees and vehicle maintenance costs.  
  • By accepting rides from family, friends, or a retirement community, seniors are also building their social circle.  These outings together can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, while building a positive relationship of companionship and care.
  • Some seniors may benefit by keeping their own car, but have others drive them for errands and outings.
  • Explore the option of home delivery.  Many stores and services nowadays offer home delivery.  This helps to cut down on driving, while increasing convenience by having items delivered directly to the home or senior living community.
  • Invest in new or old hobbies.  By having someone else provide the transportation, seniors can concentrate their efforts on a new or old hobby, such as reading, writing, knitting, painting, photography, exercise, crafts, card games, etc.  This allows them more time to pursue the interests they love.
  • If a senior is able to walk to a nearby errand, instead of drive, it increases their health, well-being and mobility.

There are certain periods of life where there are big changes and relinquishing driving when you’re a senior can be one of those momentous changes.  At our Ray Stone Senior Living Communities in Roseville, Carmichael, Sacramento and Grass Valley, we help to make this transition easier by offering complimentary scheduled transportation so your loved one can still have the freedom to run errands, go to the doctors and grocery store, all while maintaining that feeling of freedom and independence in their everyday lives.   This also prevents your loved one from having to deal with parking and long walks to the car in bad weather, while enabling easy curbside pickup and drop-off at each of our four communities.

Aging brings about many new changes, challenges and responsibilities, but if we are in it together, it can make all of these transitions a whole lot easier, with or without keys.