One day, Kate Scheirman was driving and found herself behind an elderly man driving his car.
The man’s car jumped a curb, then he kept driving. She followed him to an independent living facility and, by pure coincidence, she recognized the guy.
“It was my friend’s father,” she says. “I called her immediately and said ‘You know, I kind of feel like you may want to have a discussion with your dad. He just took a curb and he could have hit somebody.’”
Ah, yes — the discussion.
There is likely no great way for a son or daughter to tell a mother or father they should give up driving. Some want to hold off on that talk for as long as they can.
But for those who are at that state where it might be a good idea for Mom or Pop to relinquish the keys, Scheirman has some advice.
Scheirman is the patient advocate at the Pittsburgh-based Lytle Personal Health Partners. She has an extensive background in geriatrics and has learned in her years of experience that to have the discussion takes a little pre-planning. Offspring should not go on the offensive or it will likely result in resistance.
“You don’t want to say ‘You are going to kill somebody – you shouldn’t be driving,’” Scheirman says. “When you discuss driving, envision how you would feel if someone is taking that away from you. That’s a loss. As we age, we are experiencing losses. We don’t have the same reflexes. Our response time might be different. We might not be able to climb the stairs that we used to.
“Driving is such a sense of independence. It’s the way we socialize. We get in our car, we go to the grocery store, we get to talk to people there. We go to activities. We go to the doctor. It’s tough to take that away.”
Scheirman says that the best way to ease into the discussion is to allow Mom or Dad to open up about the highs and lows of driving at a late age.
“You want to present it as ‘How are you doing with your driving?’” she says. “You can ask about the finances. Ask them about the car insurance and repair costs. When you have this conversation, it should be at a time when it’s just you and your parent or parents. You don’t want to come across being accusatory. You want to have ideas in your mind on what you are going to say and have alternatives.
“If you are going to present this, you have to ask yourself if you are going to be involved in driving them or are you going to help them to get access to driving or any kind of service that the county provides? Will you hire a friend to help them? Will you hire a driver?”
Even if sons and daughters are respectful and approach this in the most tactful way possible, that doesn’t mean Pop is going to say “OK, son, here are the keys. I’m done driving.”
In some instances there might be stubbornness and harsh words for the idea. They just might not want to talk about it.
“You can certainly say that you want to talk about this at another time,” Scheirman says. “Or you could ask a doctor if he or she could talk with the parent – especially if you know they are having problems with balance or dizziness or anything like that.”
One rule of thumb Scheirman recommends is to keep in mind who you are taking to.
“You can’t talk to them like they are children,” she says. “You have to remember that they are the parents. We have to really be careful on our presentation. You want to work on this together.”