Giving up driving can be difficult for anyone, but especially for a senior citizen, who may see this as the first step in losing independence and autonomy. Whatever the reason for the change, there are several steps you can take to make the transition easier.
Whenever possible, giving up driving should be approached as a gradual transition process – not as a sudden change. However, there are times when you may not have the leisure of transitioning gradually into not driving. For example, if the senior has been involved in an accident or has had a significant change in mental or physical status, this could necessitate that driving stop immediately. More often, however, it is the case that there are circumstances under which the senior can and cannot drive, and each should be addressed.
The senior should be involved in the decision making process to the extent that’s practical. Few of us relish the thought of having others make decisions for us, so it’s important to involve the senior whenever possible. Ideally, a dialogue about safe driving should begin far in advance of the need to make any decisions about giving up driving.
When it’s feasible, allow the senior to begin to give up driving while continuing to drive in ways that are safe. For example, maybe the senior can still drive safely on familiar, local roads, but is no longer capable of driving safely on major interstates or crowded city streets. Or perhaps the issue is driving at night. It’s not unusual for seniors to need to stop driving at night or when it’s rainy or foggy and visibility is limited before they stop driving completely. Avoid times when traffic is congested, such as just before and after business hours and during lunch. Avoiding areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic may also be wise.
As the senior begins to transition to not driving, supplemental transportation will need to be available. In some instances, this may involve friends or family members who can drive when needed. It may also involve using public transportation. If public transportation is going to be used, take some time to familiarize yourself first with the system. Know the costs, the pick-up and drop-off locations, and which routes are most likely to be helpful. Armed with this information, spend some time with the senior riding public transportation to help them become more comfortable with it.
In addition, many retirement communities or areas with large and active seniors groups offer public transportation either for free or at discounted rates. Call around to see if any of these opportunities exist in your community.
When public transportation isn’t available or appropriate, there are other resources that may be useful. For example, most area hospitals offer medical transport for seniors to help them get to doctors offices and hospitals for appointments. In other areas, you can arrange for private transportation – a taxi, for example – to be available at a regular time and date. Some businesses, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, will also deliver to home-bound seniors.
The most important thing you can do when helping a senior give up driving is to stay involved with them. Don’t let them become completely homebound – spend time with them regularly, and take them places. Help them stay active, and everyone will be happier.