Caregiver Question | 05/16/24

I couldn’t help but notice that it looked like his car had been in a Nascar race.

DEAR CARALLEL: My dad is 81 years old. He’s a happy guy. Still works out a few times a week and goes to coffee just about every morning. My sister and her family live 20 minutes down the road and I’m a couple hours north. 

I was recently in town for a visit. Dad seemed like he always does and we had a great time. The problem is I couldn’t help but notice that his car looked like it’d been in a Nascar race. 

The front bumper was scuffed, the back bumper was dented on the right side, and the driver side mirror was cracked. The hub cap was raked too. 

When I asked dad about it, he brushed it off as if nothing had happened and seemed irritated by the question. 

My sister and I don’t buy it and are concerned. How can we talk with him about it? What if it’s no longer safe for him to drive? –Keith in Carbondale, IL

DEAR KEITH: The fact that you made this observation and spoke up about it are excellent first steps.

My first piece of advice here is to keep an open mind. There may be a perfectly plausible explanation for the damage to your father’s car. That is possible.

But it could also be a sign of an underlying change that needs to be addressed for you dad’s safety, as well as that of others. So again, good on you for taking these first steps.

Now with your open mind, try to let your dad’s ability, not his age, be your guide.

Driving is at the heart of independence and as a result, it can be very difficult to have a conversation about it without our loved one feeling attacked or that we’re trying to take away their independence.

Try to use “I” instead of “you” when broaching the topic and stick to the facts. In this case, the facts are you haven’t noticed damage on your dad’s car previously, you don’t drive with him often, driving can become a challenge as we get older, and you just want to be sure he’s safe.

Start with an assessment
Try doing a ride-along with him. This is a great way for you to see for yourself how he’s doing. Is he making reasonable decisions? Reacting appropriately to what’s happening on the road? Is he signaling properly and following the rules of the road? How is his confidence?

Driving schools also do assessments, so it may be worth having a driving school check him out in addition to, or in lieu of, your ride-along.

Make it medical
If you do find areas of concern, you should consult his doctor to find out if a medical problem or medication could be affecting his ability to drive safely.

Speaking with the doctor has the added benefit of them being able to help you in further discussion with your dad if it is deemed to be necessary.

Other resources to help
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) provides lots of helpful resources and AARP also offers a Smart Driver Course to help older drivers.

Lastly, we touch on this topic in more detail in this Caregiver Conversation: Transportation Challenges and How to Solve Them. It’s 30 minutes long and the segment on driver safety starts at about the 9 minute mark. 

I hope this helped, Keith. Let me know how it goes.

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate 

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