Transportation can be a sensitive and tricky issue for elderly drivers and their caregivers. How do you know if your loved one is still safe to drive? How will he feel when he no longer has the freedom to go where he wants? And if he can't drive, are you thrust into the role of chauffeur, or are there other options? Here are some tips for caregivers to consider.
Have an open dialogue. If it's possible, caregivers should keep their loved ones involved in the discussion about driving. Find out what she thinks. Does she want to keep driving? Where does she want to be able to go each week? Things might go more smoothly if you're having a conversation rather than just imposing rules.
Keep the car in good shape. When elderly people are still driving, caregivers can head off problems by making sure the cars are well-maintained. Get the car serviced regularly and check the gas, oil, and tire pressure.
Watch for signs of driving problems. Your loved one may be a perfectly safe driver right now. But since driving skills can diminish suddenly, caregivers need to keep tabs on the situation. Watch for signs of trouble -- getting lost, driving too slowly or too quickly, getting anxious or frustrated, and having near misses or accidents.
Get an independent evaluation. It's not easy for a caregiver to decide whether a loved one is capable of driving. So contact a driver rehabilitation specialist (DRS) or call the department of motor vehicles to see if the state offers driving evaluations for elderly drivers. Some states actually require driver tests for people who get diagnosed with certain conditions, like dementia. If your loved one passes the test, she should probably take it again in six months.
Set consistent limits on driving. For a loved one's safety, a caregiver may want to start imposing some restrictions on when and where an elderly loved one can drive. For instance, you might ask that he not drive after dark or in bad weather. Or you might want him to keep his trips to within town. To prevent future conflict, caregivers should stick to the limits that they've set down.
When the time comes, take away the keys. It's not easy. But if your loved one has become a danger to herself or others while driving, you have to prevent her from getting access to a car. You have no choice. Obviously, you should try to be compassionate -- remember that losing the ability to drive can make people feel isolated and desperate. See if you can get a doctor involved in the discussion, since a medical authority may make it easier for your loved one to accept the situation.
Car pool. If you're doing a lot of extra driving to accommodate your loved one, remember that you're not alone -- there are plenty of other people doing the same thing. See if you can contact other caregivers and share some of the responsibilities.
Look into free transportation. Hospitals, senior centers, and adult day cares often provide free transportation for elderly people to and from the home.
Evaluate public transportation. Many regions have buses with hydraulic lifts that help people with walkers or wheelchairs. However, if a loved one isn't used to taking the bus, a caregiver might want to take the trip with him a few times so he gets the hang of it.
Make a list of transportation options and keep it by the phone. Include the names and numbers of any friends, neighbors, other caregivers, shuttle services, and cab companies.
Consider hiring a car service. It might seem extravagant. But when you consider the costs of keeping your loved one's own car -- the insurance, gas, and maintenance -- you may find that hiring a car as needed makes financial sense.