This is Part 3 of a 5 part series addressing the delicate issue of asking an elderly parent to retire from their driving career. In our previous article "Giving Up the Keys…Who Should Do the Talking?” we discussed “who” should actually participate in the conversation of driving cessation. Today we will briefly discuss “why” an older driver might be so reluctant in deciding to transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat, even when they know it’s in the best interest of safety.
It goes without saying that driving (for anyone) represents freedom, control, and of course, independence. But this is particularly true for the older driver. Here are five reasons a senior driver may not be willing to make driving concessions, despite what may be obvious and quantifiable safety reasons:
1) For a senior driver, losing the ability to drive can be an obvious emotional set-back. In some cases, this set-back can be even more complicated when combined with recent losses such as the death of a spouse, a close friend, or a recent diagnosis of a serious health condition.
Imagine for a moment that only months ago your spouse of 50+ years died unexpectedly, and now your adult children are trying to take your car away from you. Or that last week you were diagnosed with cancer, and today your family doctor compounded your anguish by suggesting that for safety reasons you stop driving, effective immediately. The recipient of all of this wonderful news must feel like the great Tsunami of Doom has just reached land.
2) A senior driver may believe that if he/she can no longer drive, they will become a burden to others. This may be the furthest thing from the truth, but it becomes very real in the eyes of the beholder. Imagine for just one minute that you can suddenly no longer drive. Ever. Would you not feel at least somewhat burdensome asking others for help getting you to and from just your doctor’s appointments? Taking you to get groceries? Driving you to the hairdresser or barber? Taking you to visit an old friend?
3) Many seniors see a surrender of their driver’s license as an acknowledgement that their physical wellness, agility, mental sharpness, reflexes, sight, hearing or memory are beginning to deteriorate. Or that an illness or pre-existing medical condition is “getting worse”.
4) Many older drivers believe that if they give up their driving, they will have fewer social opportunities than what they are accustomed to (I’m going to address this issue in a later paragraph).
5) Despite everyone’s best efforts, driving cessation can sometimes still trigger depression in elderly people which, in turn can cause a noticeable deterioration in your loved one’s physical health.
There are obviously many, many more examples of the emotional distress driving cessation can cause for an older driver. The good news is; a retirement from a long and successful driving career does not have to be all doom and gloom.
For many of us, the stresses synonymous with daily driving can’t be understated. This stress is often compounded ten-fold for an older driver. A recent study conducted by the University of Southern California concluded that “…in the stressed group, older drivers were not only more cautious but were also jerkier drivers, braking and restarting almost three times as much as their calmer peers”.
In addition, the study concluded that “The brain regions that are involved in stress, overlap with the brain regions that are involved in decision-making and, in particular, in decisions about risk”. This study was supported by the National Institute of Aging.
As the Founder & CEO of Keeping Us Safe, I have conducted our Enhanced Self-Assessments with more than one older driver who walked out of our session so relieved that he or she had just retired from driving, that they felt the weight of the entire world had just been lifted from them.
I’ve received telephone calls and personal visits from clients that we helped transition to a non-driving way of life, reporting that although one of their biggest concerns early on was that they would become isolated and disconnected from the world as they knew it, only to find that they are busier now than they have been in years. I recently bumped into (figuratively, not literally) an 86 year old retired-driver client of mine that was grinning from ear-to-ear as she explained “I’m busier now than ever. My neighbors and friends call me everyday asking if I want to go here or go there with them. A lot of times I actually have to turn down their offers because I get too tired from all the running”.
I’ve had other clients call to “brag” about how much money they are saving every month because they no longer have a car payment, no longer have to pay for insurance, oil changes, tires or car washes. One gentleman stated that now that his car’s no longer parked in the garage, he and his wife sit in lawn chairs where the car used to sit and just watch traffic go by. He jokingly added that he rates the drivers as they whiz past: “should be driving… should not be driving”. His wife laughed and said her husband was practicing so he could take my job from me.
In this article we conducted a cursory review of why a senior driver may be reluctant to make appropriate decisions related to his or her driving future. In part 4 of this 5 part series, we are going to look at five basic changes a senior driver can make in his or her driving habits that can help extend their safe driving career.
I hope you found this article both enjoyable and helpful and I encourage you to call us toll-free at 877-907-8841 or to visit our website for more information.
The homepage of our website briefly explains our two group presentations:
It also introduces you to our individualized “Enhanced Self-Assessment Program”, which was designed specifically for older drivers. Please visit our site today to sign up for our e-newsletter. You are also encouraged to follow us on Twitter @keepingussafe.