James is a 79-year-old with stenosis of the vertebrae in his neck, due to an automobile accident 25 years ago. He cannot lift his arms above his heart and cannot look over his shoulders to make turns. In addition, he is in the early stages of macular degeneration, but he is still driving, in fact, refuses to give it up.
He says he only drives around town during the day and sticks to back roads to avoid traffic, but his family is terrified he will have an accident and kill himself, or worse, someone else. He passed his last driving test, so he’s convinced he’s still competent.
The more independent a senior was in younger years, the more difficulty they have accepting the limitations that age imposes. However, many seniors do self-limit their driving as they realize their diminishing capabilities. They may drive only during the day and during good weather, stay close to home, and/or avoid freeways and busy streets. There are many accommodations that seniors of good conscience and mental ability can and will make. Of course, it’s different if your senior has failing mental abilities as well as physical ones. In that case convincing them is more urgent and frequently more difficult as well.
Compounding the issue in Arizona is the fact that your AZ driver’s license does not expire until age 65, and then needs to be renewed only every 5 years after that. The renewal always includes a vision test, but the written and road tests are only required in certain situations, such as when requested by a doctor, family member or police officer.
Here are some tips that might help you convince your senior that it’s time to give up the keys:
- Remember that, in a way, you are asking them to voluntarily give up their independence. It is common to need time to accept and grieve, as well as figure out alternatives to mitigate the sense of loss of control and freedom.
- Talk to your loved one’s doctor; sometimes having a neutral third party make the recommendation to stop driving is easier to take. Physicians in Arizona are not required to report seniors they believe should not be driving, but they may do so. Doctors can perform evaluations and recommend that the MVD restrict or revoke a senior’s license, but they cannot make the final determination.
- Start a conversation about how they feel about getting older and about their perceptions of diminishing abilities. Be a sympathetic, understanding listener in a discussion between equals. Avoid being “prescriptive,” that is, telling them what they “ought” or “have” to do. It may be unrealistic to expect that a short discussion will resolve the issue once and for all.
- Perhaps you had surgery and were unable to drive for a time afterwards; remember the emotions and the practical considerations your had to deal with? If not, try giving up your own driving for a week or two, to gain personal experience and be better able to see the dilemma from their point of view. If that is not possible or practical (you know it won’t be convenient!), consider the practical as well as the emotional issues they’ll have to deal with and come to the conversation with some thoughtful responses.
- Come prepared with some practical suggestions and create some more while you’re talking:
- “I’ll drive you to the grocery store every week, and Betty is available to take you to your doctor appointments.”
- “I made a list of the local senior transportation services for you and contacted several, and her’s how they work.”
- “Your friend Joe says he is willing to drive you to the senior center for your bridge games.”
- Ask them to take a senior driving safety class. Both AAA and AARP offer these classes, and other organizations, as well. As an incentive, remind them that many insurance providers offer a discount to seniors who take a class. They may realize during the class that they either need to self-limit their driving or give it up altogether. If they are truly unsafe on the road, the instructor may be able to convince them even if you can’t.
- Keep your expectations realistic. You are asking for a major lifestyle change and it may take a number of conversations to achieve your goal. If you consistently treat them with respect their dignity you are more likely to get there.
Do you have a story or solution that worked in your family? Leave a comment and let us know. We’ll publish an addendum to this post with your suggestions if we get enough.