By Jane Mahoney, Caregiver Support Specialist
Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources (GWAAR)
Being able to drive is more than just getting where you want to go. It is a symbol of freedom, independence and self-sufficiency. But it is important to consider what happens when declining vision, medication side-effects or a degenerative condition means your loved one is no longer safe to drive. Transitioning from driver to non-driver is a difficult decision. Planning ahead can alleviate some anxiety.
Just like people plan for retirement when they leave the workforce, Driving Retirement is planning for a time when driving is no longer safe. It is a proactive move that gives a person control over how to live life outside the driver’s seat and avoids having to take away their keys. Discussing driving retirement with the person you are (or will be) caring for while the person still drives will make the transition from driver to rider easier. Consider the following points as you help your loved one map out a driving retirement. Start by learning what transportation options are available by talking to friends, health care providers.
Make a list of the person’s transportation needs and alternative ways to meet those needs. In addition to public transportation options they might be able to order things through the mail, use a delivery service, walk, bike or ask family or friends for rides. Include family members and friends in the conversation as you develop the plan and don’t forget to include social activities.
Once the transportation plan is in place, encourage your loved one to start trying out new transportation methods right away. Go with them as they ride the bus, help them make an online order or walk with them to a nearby store. This will help to reduce stress and increase confidence.
The next step is to determine when it is time to stop driving. The following are some warning signs of unsafe driving:
- Abrupt lane changes, braking or accelerating
- Confusion at exits or turns
- Delayed responses to unexpected situations
- Lack of attention to traffic signs or pedestrians
- Increased agitation or irritation while driving
- Vehicle crashes or near misses
There is usually not a specific day when you know it is time to stop driving. Decisions should be based on driving behavior over a period of time, not just a single incident. Because timing can be unclear, have agreed upon measures in place – a driving contract, regular review by family, completion of a driving assessment, or a discussion with a physician – to help determine the balance between a person’s desire to drive with the need for safety. When it is time to put the driving retirement plan into action be positive and optimistic. Review the transportation plan and make adjustments as needed.
Even when change is unwanted, people have the ability to adapt and thrive. Plan to visit them frequently and be sure that transportation is available to meet their social needs as well. Get the conversation started about planning a driving retirement to prevent a more difficult scenario in the future.