Worried about an older relative’s driving?

When families are gathered together this holiday season, you may start to notice changes in an older relative’s driving behaviors and begin to have some concerns. You are not alone.

With the number of drivers 70 and older increasing – and one in five Americans caring for an older loved one – the number of adults dealing with concerns about their older relative’s driving abilities is on the rise and many are unsure on how to address their concerns.

Resist the temptation to bring up this sensitive topic: Do your homework first

“Taking time to prepare can alleviate concerns and help you start out on the right foot with a thoughtful, positive conversation,” says Jodi Olshevski, an expert on aging for The Hartford, an insurance company. “Once you get the facts and educate yourself about the resources available, you will be in a better position to help.”

Just because your loved one is older, it doesn’t automatically mean you should be concerned about their ability to drive. Plenty of people over the age of 70 get around just as easily as their more youthful counterparts.

If you’re worried, you should find out if your concerns are valid. Learn the warning signs, get in the car and observe the older driver. “Choose the right messenger – the person who has the best rapport with the driver, and choose the right time – which is most likely not during family gatherings,” says Julie Lee, vice president of the AARP Driver Safety Program.

Warning signs

If you’re concerned about your loved one’s ability to drive, the first thing you should do is get in the car to observe them firsthand. A comprehensive list of warning signs for older drivers and other resources for older drivers can be found at www.safedrivingforalifetime.com. Here are some examples of the types of things you may want to look for:

Fairly minor warning signs: Vehicle dents and scrapes that weren’t there before, single mistakes that appear to be more of a fluke than a pattern.

More serious warning signs: Trouble making left-hand turns, driving in the wrong lane of traffic, stopping in traffic for no reason, consistent and frequent mistakes.

“Making a single, minor driving mistake doesn’t mean that a person needs to stop driving,” says Olshevski. “Families need to look for patterns of warning signs and an increase in frequency and severity of the warning signs.”

Initiating the conversation

Ideally, families should initiate the first conversation about safety long before driving becomes a problem, advises Lee. Car accidents, near misses, self-regulation of driving and health changes all provide opportunities to talk about driving skills.

There’s nothing that can make this conversation an easy one, but there are ways you can promote productive dialogue. If you determine that there’s reason for concern about your loved one’s ability to drive, approaching the situation in a thoughtful and nonthreatening way is important.

“Comments about how much more congested traffic has become recently or about an accident in the news can be a good way to start a conversation about driving safety,” says Lee.
In addition to offering safety courses for older drivers at www.aarp.org/drive, AARP also offers an online seminar for those who may need to approach the topic of driving with older family members at www.aarp.org/weneedtotalk.

Starting the conversation is often the most difficult part and your approach can set the tone for how it proceeds. Here are a few suggestions for starting the conversation in a nonthreatening way that will make the older driver more comfortable expressing his or her feelings.

* “Did you hear about the car accident in the news today?”
* “Have you asked your doctor about the effects of your new medication on your driving?”
* “That was a close call yesterday. I worry about your safety on the road.”
* “I’m worried about you getting in a car accident with all the ice and snow on the road.”
* “I’m glad that you’ve cut down on night driving. I would never want you to drive when you’re not comfortable or feel that it’s too risky.”

Some other tips for a productive conversation include:
* Prepare for the conversation and do your homework.
* Choose the right messenger and the right time.
* Be supportive, positive, factual and nonthreatening.
* Have transportation alternatives ready.
* Note that it might take more than one conversation to address the issue. Let the person know you’re there whenever he or she is interested in chatting about the subject.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when addressing problems your older driver may be having behind the wheel. Some issues can be remedied with improvements in physical fitness, increased attention and driving safety classes. Other situations may call for more immediate action.

To learn more about initiating a productive conversation about driving with your loved one, visit The Hartford’s website and download a free guidebook titled “We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers.”

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