Posted on 21 Jul 2009
Baby Boomers have a difficult time speaking to their parents about when to limit or stop driving, yet most seniors are open to talking about the increased safety risks they face on the road as they age, according to a national survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
A number of recent news stories about serious car accidents involving senior drivers have brought prominence to this issue. These incidents underscore that while the effects of aging vary individually, there are typical changes that challenge driving ability; including impaired vision and hearing, decreased mobility, and slowed reaction time and reflexes (see http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerindex?id=8125262 for more information).
While many families are concerned about seniors’ driving safety and mobility issues, the Liberty Mutual survey found that a majority of Boomers (75 percent) have never initiated a conversation about driving with their aging parents out of concern for their reaction. The Boomers said they feared that raising the issue would make their parents uncomfortable (58 percent), angry (38 percent), embarrassed (30 percent), or disrespected (12 percent).
An overwhelming majority of the seniors made it clear, however, that they are much more open to having a conversation about their driving than their children think. The survey found that 94 percent of the seniors would not be embarrassed discussing the topic, and 80 percent said that such a conversation would not make them uncomfortable. Ninety-two percent of the seniors said their children “have a right” to raise the issue with them.
“Senior driving is a social issue as much as it is a safety issue,” said Greg Gordon, senior vice president of Consumer Marketing at Liberty Mutual. “We have 30 million drivers over 65 on the road today, and another 10,000 people turning 65 each day by 2012, who use their cars to remain active and contributing members of our communities. Families should be having conversations now – before an incident occurs – with aging relatives about how to best map out transportation solutions that maintain their independence and dignity, yet keep them safe.”
To help address senior driving safety, Liberty Mutual has partnered with ITNAmerica, a national, non-profit transportation network for America’s aging population, to create www.LibertyMutual.com/SeniorDriving , a one-stop resource for senior driving issues. The website offers discussion starters for addressing transportation concerns and solutions for aging relatives and is designed to prompt families to start the conversation on senior driving safety.
“With older Americans more independent today than ever before, it is vital for Baby Boomers to observe and discuss the driving behaviors of their aging relatives,” said ITNAmerica Founder and President, Katherine Freund. “The most successful conversations are the ones approached calmly and compassionately from the needs of the senior, and not a confrontation rooted in fear and danger.”
To help guide families through the sensitivity of a senior driving conversation, Liberty Mutual and ITNAmerica developed the following tips:
Before You Talk
• Take a ride with the senior driver and observe their driving. Are they aware of their driving environment? Do they have slow reaction times?
• Try to assess their recent driving record. Have they had close calls, tickets or warnings?
• Look into alternate transportation solutions. It is not realistic to discuss driving cessation or limitation without a full and practical discussion of acceptable alternatives.
• Decide among the family who is best prepared for any one role or discussion.
During Your Talk
• Consider beginning the conversation with a question about how they feel when driving.
• Keep the focus of the conversation on the older person and how the family can help him or her preserve independence while maintaining a full and meaningful life.
• Listen to what your family member is saying and truly hear their concerns.
• Highlight your concern for their safety and the safety of others.
• Don't get drawn into an argument; be kind and patient.
• Take it one step at a time, but stand your ground.
• Suggest a driving evaluation from an occupational therapist, a driving rehabilitation specialist or qualified driving instructor familiar with the issues associated with mature drivers. If necessary, enlist the help of your loved one’s physician.
• Make a plan that takes into account both the symbolic and the practical value of the family automobile and write it down to help clarify details and avoid problems caused by memory lapses, on the part of the adult children as well as the parents.
• Have realistic expectations. Helping older people accept assistance is a gentle and loving process, not a one time event.