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    Advice for families coping with an older driver’s changing abilities

    As we age, and watch our loved ones grow older, it’s important to think about – and plan for – a time when we may no longer be able to drive. But how do we decide when it’s time to transition from driver to passenger?

    In our busy suburban communities driving is essential to an independent lifestyle, and the decision to stop driving is a sensitive, personal one. In addition to creating practical challenges, giving up driving may stir feelings of anger, frustration, isolation and depression, so it is not to be taken lightly.

    With the significance of driving in mind, family members can help older drivers make the transition from driver to passenger. But how do you initiate the difficult conversation? The experts at AARP Driver Safety and The Hartford offer some advice.

    First, help older drivers stay safe behind the wheel for as long as possible. Adult children can help aging parents regularly maintain their vehicles. And if it’s time for a new car, adult children can help identify choices with new technologies that can enhance safe driving, like reverse monitoring systems. Older drivers can brush up on their driving skills with AARP Driver Safety’s course, which is specifically designed to help people 50 and older refresh their driving skills. To find a classroom course near you, call (888) 227-7669, or visit; or sign up for an online course. Courses are available in English or Spanish.

    Second, family members should observe an older loved one’s driving by taking a ride as passenger and keeping an eye out for warning signs. It’s important to look for changes in driving abilities. These signs include:

    * Frequent “close calls” or near-crashes

    * Unexplained dents or scrapes on vehicles, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, etc.

    * Getting lost, even in familiar locations

    * Difficulty seeing or following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings

    * Slower responses to unexpected situations, trouble moving the driving foot from the gas to the brake, and confusing the two pedals

    * Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections or on highway entrance and exit ramps

    * Experiencing road rage or inspiring it in other drivers

    * Easily becoming distracted while driving

    * Difficulty turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes

    * Receiving multiple tickets or warnings from law enforcement officers.

    Third, if you notice a pattern of warning signs and an increase in frequency, then it’s time to initiate a conversation. It’s important to choose the right time, place and messenger.

    “It’s important that the right person initiate the conversation,” says Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist and assistant vice president at The Hartford. “Research indicates that 50 percent of married drivers prefer to hear about driving concerns from their spouses first, then doctors and finally adult children. Whoever initiates the conversation should have a strong rapport with the older driver. ”

    “Whoever it is should be empathetic, armed with facts about her driving and able to offer ideas for alternative transportation if needed,” Olshevski advises.

    Avoid bringing up the topic of driving during family gatherings. Instead, look for a quiet, private time when all parties involved will have privacy and minimal distractions.

    If it’s time to initiate a conversation with a parent or spouse about driving, AARP Driver Safety’s “We Need to Talk” seminar can help. Developed based on information created jointly by The Hartford and MIT AgeLab, the free, online seminar helps caregivers and those with an older loved one initiate productive and caring conversations about driving safety. To take the free seminar, visit, and to download or order a free guidebook, visit 

    While many older Americans are staying safe on the roads and driving longer than ever before, for some, health-related changes in vision, hearing, flexibility or cognitive function can make them less safe behind the wheel. With planning, preparation and sensitivity, families can help make the transition from being a driver to being a passenger a bit easier for older drivers and those who love them.

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