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Having "The Talk" with an
Elderly Parent or Relative

Remember the day your parents sat you down to have "The Talk?" Your pre-teen palms sweated while you waited awkwardly to hear what they had to say. Now, many years later, it's your turn-and you dread sitting your elderly mother or father down for a different version of "The Talk," to discuss the possibility that it may be time to give up the keys.

The Cold, Hard Facts
  • In Colorado, about 652,000 licensed drivers are age 60 and older.

  • Colorado has the nation's sixth-largest concentration of retiring baby boomers.

  • Nationwide, older drivers were involved in 15 percent of the fatal traffic crashes and 12 percent of the crashes involving a serious injury in the last three years.

Talk Before Driving Becomes a Problem

Driving safety for older adults is an emotionally charged topic. No one wants to be called a dangerous driver. Most older drivers think of themselves as safe drivers, certainly better than "those teen drivers"-but their accident rate per mile is about the same. Usually, when confronted with home truths about changes in their driving abilities, the first response is anger and denial. This anger may later turn to sadness as the older adult realizes that their personal freedom may be slipping away. In many cases, an accident or a frightening near miss forces family members to finally bring up the difficult topic of an older relative's driving and suggest that it's time to quit. But the best time to talk is long before driving becomes a problem-maybe years before.

Have a series of conversations with your parents or older relatives about driver safety and how they can plan to adapt their driving habits if it becomes necessary. This way, you can avoid making accusations of poor driving skills, and initial conversations don't have to end in a drive/no drive decision.

Conversation Starters

Opportunities to open a conversation include a medication change or health problem that may affect driving, an accident or near miss, or if the older driver has decided on some type of self-regulation such as not driving at night.

These opportunities are also the ideal time for older drivers to give family members permission to help them make driving decisions in the future. In a survey conducted by MIT and Hartford Insurance, half of the older adults surveyed said they had followed the suggestion of someone who talked to them about driving. Fifty percent of married drivers preferred to hear about driving concerns from their spouse. Those living alone preferred to have the conversation with their doctor, adult children or a close friend. All those surveyed strongly preferred not to have a driving discussion with a police officer.

Discuss a Mobility Plan

When talking with an older driver about his or her abilities, share your genuine safety concerns and your desire to protect the older driver's best interests. Discuss a mobility action plan to keep them active in the community and connected to the activities that give their life meaning. If the older driver actively participates in these plans and decisions, and cooperates in an ongoing assessment of driving abilities starting from a time when there are few or no problems, the eventual transition into giving up the keys will go easier for everyone involved.

Driving plays an important part in maintaining an active, rewarding lifestyle. AAA Colorado wants to keep seniors driving safely longer. For more information about AAA's mature driving programs call 303-753-8800, extension 8105.

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