True Story: An Aging Parent’s Very Dangerous Driving

A concerned daughter with an older mom called for advice. “I’m worried about my mom’s driving” she said. I asked her about her concerns, which she said were that her mom loved driving a lot and drove to visit her from out of state several times a year. There was an upcoming trip planned. “I’m just so anxious”, she said.

Is mom confused? I asked. No. Any signs of what you think might be dementia? No, not that. Tell me what you think the problem is, I said.

Well, she’s legally blind” the daughter replied.

I’d call this is a good example of an adult child being fearful of confronting a parent about dangerous driving. Obviously no one who is legally blind should not be driving at all let alone on interstate freeways! The source of concern for adult children of aging parents could be vision problems as in this case, brain disease such as dementia or any impairment related to aging. Whatever the reason, someone needs to step in and respectfully confront the older driver about the dangers they present to both themselves and the public. Why hadn’t this daughter asked or insisted that her mother stop driving? “She just loves to drive” she tells me. That is no justification for placing everyone on the road at risk from her mother. We devised a plan.

California has 27 million licensed drivers, with 4.5 million age 65 or older, according to, highlighting the state’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. It is an effort to get drivers to sharpen their driving skills and help them adjust to age-related physical changes. The problem with the program promotion, as I see it, is that a legally blind elder, a confused elder or one with advancing dementia is not going to improve with a safe driver course. There is no mention of who would not benefit from the course.

The advice offered to the daughter worried about mom’s interstate legally blind driving was from a five-step process described in detail in my book, The Family Guide to Aging Parents. In brief, the first step is a one-on-one meeting. If step one is unsuccessful the the adult child then brings in an ally for a two-on-one meeting. If the elder still resists, as some will, a discussion with professional help can follow. Finally, there is the “intervention” method, which requires a skilled person to lead and all family to participate. As an extreme last resort, one can use legal means to stop the elder.

Studies on aging drivers asked respectfully to give up driving show that most people will do so when asked. But there are still the stubborn ones out there who insist that they are just fine driving anywhere while everyone around them knows they’re not.

At this time of year when families may get together for celebrations, there is an opportunity to do a driving check-up on aging parents. It is simply not safe to assume that they will all just give up driving at the right time. Get in the car with them and see how they manage on the road. Some need to be asked to give it up, some need insistent urging and some families need a professional, such as a physician, social worker or occupational therapist to help with the decision via assessment.

The holiday season, crowded roads and weather only increase the risks of driving. If you have any doubts about your own aging loved one and driving, please do not take the “head in the sand” approach of the daughter I spoke with in this case. She had been ignoring the danger of her mother’s driving for far too long. We can all do better than that in keeping our loved ones safe.

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