Boomers can probably recall emotional fights with their parents from decades ago when they asked if they could take the keys to the family car. Now, years later, many boomers are wondering if they will have that fight again.
One of the most contentious issues dividing the generations is agreeing on when it's time for a senior to give up driving. But adult children may find their parents are more willing to discuss the subject than they thought. The key is to begin the conversation before any action is necessary.
"It's such an emotional issue," says Dr. Marian Betz, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. "If you talk about it ahead of time, then it gets done the way you want it to happen."
Betz recently completed a study on elderly drivers with surprising results. Older drivers overwhelmingly said they might give up driving if the suggestion came from family members (75 percent) or their doctor (89 percent). The study was presented before the American Society of Geriatrics in May.
Betz recommends families draw up a sort of advanced directive, similar to one that is used to set up a course of action for health-care decisions. In the directive, it can be stated who will decide when it's time to stop driving. "It wouldn't be legally binding, but a few years down the road, it may make it easier," she says.
Still, it is important for older drivers to be aware that age can take a toll on their skills. They may not have the hand strength to grip the wheel tightly, or their legs may lose the strength to hit the brake in an emergency. Diminishing eyesight may make it harder to drive at night, and achy necks and backs may make it difficult to turn their head to check blind spots. But if older drivers are aware of these limitations, they can usually compensate to make themselves safer behind the wheel. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers safe-driving tips for senior drivers at 1.usa.gov/olderdrivers.)
And while it's often difficult for seniors to accept that their skills have dangerously diminished, there are some cues to consider. "If your daughter won't let your grandkids drive in the car with you," Betz says, "that may be a sign."