This year’s COVID-19 pandemic has definitely disrupted plans for the holidays, and for many of us means a cancellation of the annual trip “home”.
And while we’re all making plans to connect with loved ones using alternate means and fun new technologies, there’s obviously something missing.
In addition to all of the special moments and traditions that might have to look a bit different this year, this article will focus on one area of concern for adults with aging parents — how to check that mom and dad are still healthy, happy, and managing well both at home and on the road.
The New-Era’s Family Visit
Geographic distance between adult children with aging parents has a new weight with the COVID-19 pandemic. Where once, it was easy to hop in the car or on a plane, this year visits have to be confined to the digital, which presents a number of challenges.
A small screen is a poor replacement for a hug and a conversation, and that’s assuming that aging parents are skillful with technology, have a strong internet connection, and don’t suffer from any visual or hearing challenges.
Another area where visiting on Zoom or a Google hangout has limitations is checking in on your aging loved ones.
Warning signs like difficulty walking, carrying a beverage, or comfortably navigating the home likely won’t come up. Without living together for an extended period of time, challenges in endurance or coordination will also be harder to identify.
This places a bit of uncertainty into how your parents are really doing, both at home and on the road.
Understanding the Challenges of Driving As You Age (Especially Now)
We’ve all experienced quite a bit more stress, anxiety, and loneliness since the start of the pandemic, all of which can affect your driving abilities. Combined with the challenges of driving as you age (which we explore in further depth at this link), aging drivers are at an even higher risk this year.
However, as many adult children with aging parents know, anyone in this age group can be strong-willed and fiercely defensive of their independence. This makes sense, as they would not have reached their advanced age without being healthy, independent, and capable.
But it can also make elderly drivers more likely to find excuses why they need to continue driving — like picking up medications, picking up medical appointments, or attending social events and community services.
This desire not to lose their freedom can also make our parents tend to ignore small warning signs that they might not be fit to continue driving — like little fender benders, navigation errors, or more frequent close calls on the road.
Normally, these little warning signs are easy to spot while spending time at home with our elderly parents. But again, from a distance, they can cause some uncertainty.
As we discussed in another article, beginning to talk with your aging parents about driving safety can be a tense, uncomfortable, and sometimes unproductive task. So instead, we’ll focus on how you can check in without putting parents on the defensive.
Identifying Driving Concerns in Family (During Any Kind of Visit)
In many states, laws do not require physicians to be mandated reporters to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This means that an older person’s safety behind the wheel is typically left to other health care providers, or to family members.
This can feel like a hefty, challenging responsibility, but there are a number of different ways to check in on your parents and their general mental abilities early.
We’ve listed 10 easy ways to spot potential challenges to driver safety below, all of which might come up during the natural course of family conversation.
Note: If you’re already very concerned about your parent’s safe driving abilities, sometimes it’s better to simply come out and have that conversation directly at a different time.
Pushing too hard on subtle tests, especially during a positive, celebratory family time, may come across as manipulative, and run counter to the point.
10 Signs of Hindered Driving Ability You Can Spot Over the Phone/Web
- Do they have controlled mobility as they walk with a phone?
- How does the inside of their refrigerator look? Is there enough/fresh food?
- Have their grooming habits changed? This may indicate changes in sleep patterns, increased confusion, etc.
- Can they clearly see the Zoom/phone screen?
- Has their speech changed? Or is there more effort required to have a conversation (short of breath while talking)?
- How is their posture? Comfortable, upright posture is very important for senior drivers
- Do they resort to circular or repetitive storytelling? These can be a sign of cognitive decline
- Do they demonstrate forgetfulness related to medical issues/appointments?
- Do they forget the names of family members? Especially ones they’re engaging with?
- Have they complained about any pains, aches, or swelling that might accompany a failure to manage medication?
Any of these signs can be a potential indicator of unsafe driving. Still, we know that this is a hard conversation to have. For many older adults, independence is synonymous with driving.
However, there are a number of different ways that older adults can confidently determine that they are capable and safe drivers on the road.
Driver Rehabilitation: A Solution for Older Drivers
Did you know that occupational therapy driving evaluations can offer insight into your fitness to drive?
As people age, there is any number of events that can present a challenge to their driving ability. Stroke, COVID-19, head injury from a fall, major surgery, anxiety, stress, and grief are just a few that can have dangerous side effects on driving ability.
However, we return to the core of the problem — no older driver wants to lose their independence, or become a bother, which can lead to some dangerous decisions about their driving ability.
The good news is that the choice older people have to make isn’t a simple “drive or stop driving” decision. There are a variety of driver assessment services available in every state, where driving rehab specialists can keep older adults informed and confident about their specific challenges.
If you identify any driving changes during a holiday visit, it might be time to reach out to your parents, their physician, and the local driver rehabilitation specialists about a driving evaluation.
This is a good middle ground — if your senior parent is perfectly capable to drive, they’ll be even more confident after an assessment. And if not, driver rehabilitation specialists can offer a wide variety of adaptive driving equipment, training, and alternatives to stay on the road.
By working with trusted third parties for an objective assessment of your parent’s driving abilities, you can remove some of the emotional conflict and turmoil involved in making this decision.
Ultimately, the goal of any driving assessment is to ensure that your aging parents remain as safe, confident, and independent as possible, whether that’s through a return to driving or other alternatives.
Take the Next Step
We know how hard it can be to face these problems with a loved one and find solutions, which is why we founded The Next Street Driver Rehab Services.
Our goal is exactly the same as yours: we want to work with you and your loved ones to understand their unique challenges, support their driving skills, and if needed, find the best possible alternative transportation options (like personal or public transportation).
This is a personalized approach, and we can bring our evaluation team directly to your family members in their own homes, or welcome them to one of our therapy centers in several locations across the state.
If you’d like to learn more about our services, you can visit our Driver Rehabilitation Homepage, or call us at 860-483-7009.