Tough Conversations with Elderly Parents


car harmedMost Americans have either had to deal with the sensitive issue of evaluating an elderly driver’s capability to continue to drive, or knows someone who has dealt with this issue. Many adult children have had the difficult experience of determining whether a beloved family member is capable of driving safely and avoiding injury to themselves or others. If you have not already confronted this in your family, you likely will at some point in your life. And the most important thing about this is that in doing so, you may be saving the life of your loved one or someone else. When this conversation becomes necessary, you may need the guidance of others who have come before you in this sensitive dialogue. Because as Americans, we cherish the ability to be independent and to go wherever we want to go, when and how we want to do so. Our elderly family members love their independence, just like we do.

But when we begin to see the signs that an elderly parent or loved one can no longer safely drive — because he or she is a danger to himself or others — we need to have the courage our elder loved ones wanted us to have as kids and we need to do something to help. As we age, driving can become more challenging.

If you Google “elderly driver,” you can find many fine resources to help with this challenge. But you might well also find an article on fatal crashes caused by an elderly driver. In preparing for this post, I found an article about two pedestrians who were walking their dog and were struck and killed by an elderly driver in Chico just this week.

The good news is that there are many resources for families who need support in having this conversation with their elderly family member. Many states also now have ways to anonymously report a family member to the relevant licensing agency or DMV, that they need to be contacted or fully evaluated for the ability to drive, rather than taking a simple written test for their next licensing appointment. There are also excellent checklists and guidelines for the signs that your loved one is no longer safe to drive without more evaluation. Warning signs like more and more dents in a vehicle, accidents or collisions, moving violations and other red flags can be reviewed at the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission website. 

There are also really fine evaluation services in most states that not only check vision, but motor function, range of motion and coordination. Of course, reaction time is also key in the driving process and this too can be evaluated by a rehabilitation specialist. These experts can even provide guidance for adaptive vehicle equipment to help a person drive. Sometimes these evaluations can be covered by health insurance or other insurance. After an injury or a medical event such as a heart attack or stroke, these services can be extremely helpful in assessing a person’s ability to get back to driving. These evaluations can be vital for the elderly who want to continue to drive.

Rehabilitation and occupational therapists can also help evaluate whether the vehicle that the elderly driver is using is appropriate for things like carrying a walker, housing a scooter, reaching the foot pedals safely, and other issues. There is also a great deal of adaptive equipment that is available now for those who might just need a piece of equipment to help them drive safely.  Things like larger interior handles, larger dashboard print and seat adjusters can really help. We have often heard of injuries to the elderly in an auto crash when an airbag deploys — with fragile bones, the injured person could have some fractures or breaks when an airbag deploys too close to the body.

Please feel free to contact my law firm, Scholle Law if have been injured in an accident or have a loved one who has been injured.  We are here to help those in need after an accident or injury.