One of the greatest challenges that adult children face as their parents get older is concerns around their driving. Despite being such a common issue faced by many people, there’s little guidance on how to deal with it. Even professionals are sometimes reluctant to get involved. How can you help someone who is worried that their parent is no longer safe to drive?
First, lean in with empathy and listen to their concerns. This is likely a stressful situation that they’re trying to deal with. Hold space for them to express what they’re feeling and acknowledge that their emotions are completely normal. I also like to ask, “How do you think your parent is feeling?” Let them know that this is tough on them too and they’re probably experiencing a range of emotions from anger, fear, and uncertainty for the future. Remember that driving is a huge deal and if someone must retire from driving, it’s a significant transition.
Next, ask them to think about the reasons why they’re concerned. Has their parent had accidents? Have they received tickets or warnings from the police? Is there unexplained damage to the vehicle? Do they have a medical condition that impairs their judgment? Do they have physical limitations that prevent them from turning their neck? Can they see and hear well enough to drive? All of these can be potential warning signs that a person is unsafe to drive.
Having a conversation with a parent about their driving will be difficult but necessary. Encourage the person to approach the conversation with curiosity around their parent’s goals and to ask questions. Here are eight more communication tips:
Getting an agreement to visit the doctor may be one of the best outcomes of the conversation. Often, someone will agree to stop driving if their doctor recommends it (not always!). If the adult child can accompany their parent to the doctor, it will also give them the opportunity to ask questions about their parent’s medications and health conditions.
Lastly, you can help people to understand the role that the local authorities play in navigating this type of situation. Visit the website of the motor vehicle department in your state. Is there information about how often older drivers must renew their licenses? Are there guidelines for health care professionals to report drivers who have certain medical conditions? Is there a procedure for citizens to report a driver? Another option that can be suggested is to book a road test with an approved centre if their parent will agree to go. A private assessment with an occupational therapist may be costly but the results will provide an objective opinion from a third party.
Throughout the process, encourage your client to take good care of themselves and to practice self-compassion. Above all, reassure them that although it’s not easy, they will get through this challenging situation!
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