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It’s Time To Give Up The Keys, But How Do You Say It? – Elderly Drivers In NJ [SERIES]

This is part three of a week-long, five-part series during which Kelly Waldron will delve into the controversial issue of senior driving. From recognizing the warning signs to having difficult conversations to taking away the keys and finding alternate transportation, it’s an important issue that plagues many families across New Jersey, one of which will share their very personal story.

You’ve observed an elderly loved one over a period of time, you’ve picked up on all of the warning signs and you’re absolutely sure that it is no longer safe for them to get behind the wheel and drive.

Flickr User Mynameisharsha

But, how can you begin to have the very difficult conversation and explain that it’s time for them to give up their keys?

“First and foremost, it’s definitely not a conversation you want to begin in the car while they are driving or when your anxiety is heightened. You want to be away from the vehicle and in a calm setting,” said Terri Wilson, Caregiver Initiative Specialist with the State Division of Aging Services. “Driving is a very significant part of an older person’s life. It means independence. They’ve been doing it a long time and they are the adult. So, you want to begin to have that conversation with love and support. You want to be empathetic and you want to focus on keeping them safe. Also, give them an opportunity to express themselves as well and acknowledge their feelings about their loss of independence.”

“You can talk to someone about their driving and still let them maintain their self-esteem and dignity which is the primary thing. Once you are able to do that, then you approach them not only to address what you see as a potential problem, but to give them solutions as well,” said Lavelle Jones, Deputy State Coordinator for the AARP New Jersey Driver Safety Program. “When you approach them, first of all, let them know you’re talking with them because you care about them and you want to work with them. We always discourage talking at people about their driving skills. That’s not what you want to do.”

You want to sit down and have a conversation with them and let them know what you have observed and what causes you concern. Then, listen to them,” said Jones. “Because very often you find out that they already felt that there was something wrong and by broaching the subject, it allows them to talk through it and let you know what they may have already decided to do.”

It’s also a conversation that should start before a problem arises.

“We’re all going to age. It’s inevitable so if you have an elderly loved one, it may be a good idea to start thinking now about how they’re going to get around in the event that they can’t drive. It’s better to have a plan ready in advance instead of having to scramble when and if something happens,” said Jones. “You can also have a written agreement in place with that person that says they’re willing to give up their keys should their driving become unsafe.”

“When you have the conversation, the key is to provide them with alternatives,” said Jones.

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