Samuel is an 87-year-old retired railroad worker, living an independent lifestyle. However, the past year of struggling health concerns has caught up to him: failing eyesight, a worsening heart condition and painful arthritic knees.
Sam gets angry every time his daughter brings up the subject of not driving any more. He couldn’t stand the embarrassment of not being in control of his independence. He reassures her that he only drives during the day and only for short distances. She is terrified that he will cause an accident. Somehow, Sam manages to continue to pass his driving test, reenforcing his perception of his driving competence.
This scenario is a common theme in families dealing with an elder becoming too frail to drive safely. Usually the more independent the person has been throughout their life, the more they refuse to acknowledge their limitations. Taking away a senior’s driver’s licence can be difficult.
Here are a few suggestions to assist you through the process:
- After the age of 80, Ontarians need to renew their G driver’s licence every two years. Many times seniors will find it difficult to pass a renewal test and simply let their licence expire. You can learn more about the regulations at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation at http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/.
- Check with your loved one’s physician. Sometimes they can assist as a mediator and help convince the person to give up driving, but only if there is a strong connection of trust between them.
- Start a conversation about how they are “feeling” about getting older and their perception of declining abilities. It may take several of these “get to know each other again” conversations. You don’t want to come across as their parent or they will probably resist. Rather, develop a relationship as a friend and hopefully a confidant. Realize that spending extra time with your loved one can actually be an opportunity to make a deeper connection with them.
- If they are open to communicating with you, discuss how their physical condition can lead to a potentially fatal accident, such not being able to stop the car in time if a child darts out chasing their dog.
- Remember that giving up one’s driving privilege will be experienced in some with deep grief. And as with all loss, we must have time to grieve. In general, the deeper the connection with what was lost, whether a driving privilege or a person, the longer and more difficult will be the grief period. So start your conversations early!
- Help your loved one find specific alternatives to driving; don’t just make suggestions. Many communities have shuttle services for seniors. Some taxi cabs offer reduced rates for elders. Contact local agencies that help seniors as some provide volunteers to drive folks around. Integrate new interventions one at a time to get them to begin the experience of life with alternative transportation.
- Even mild dementia can affect the decision making process where the elder fabricates their responses to assessment and denies their impaired abilities. Anger is often a response to any suggestion giving up their car. In these cases, you might have to engage a counselor to help with mediation, the physician with medication, and even force the situation by taking away the keys to the car or removing a part that will keep it from starting. In some cases, the anger will subside as they get through their grieving process. In other cases, the anger can turn into severe depression. Make sure you have the help of support services to deal with these issues as they come up.
Doctors in Ontario are bound by law to file a report with the Ministry of Transportation about an elder no longer safe to drive. Many times, though, doctors are not even aware of the situation. Taking away a senior’s drivers licence can be a huge lifestyle change impacting their wellbeing, so it’s important to help them through the process instead of forcing the issue.