At some point, driving gets away from our aging parents. It’s an insidious process that lulls older adults into a false sense of security that their driving skills are still adequate. Adult children see a different picture of “unsafe driving” that can only get worse. The question is how do adult children approach aging parents on such a sensitive and volatile topic?
First, here is what they should avoid. Conversations filled with sharp disapproval of their aging parents’ driving skills that point out what needs to change and how to do it. In Motivational Interviewing, this confrontational approach is called the “righting reflex.” A good example of this is the strong urge of adult children to make aging parents “right” by telling them their problems and how to fix them. Not surprisingly, this unsolicited advice is never well-received and only serves to increase resistance to making any changes.
Instead, adult children should consider a collaborative, evidence-based approach that is framed as a proactive assessment to help aging parent drive as long as possible. Since driving plays such an important role in a seniors’ life, identification of problems that impact driving skills is essential to addressing these concerns early on. I call this approach Evidence-Based Inquiry of Driving Skills. Let’s see if they’re anything to be concerned about and if there is, what can be done to make it better?
The primary tool of the Evidence-Based Inquiry of Driving Skills is the Driving Data Map. It is a one-page data map that represents all the moving parts of the collaborative driving skill inquiry. Aging parents and adult children review the data points together.
The collaborative inquiry is not an exercise in finding a consensus for the data points being considered. It is an exercise in hearing different points of view about the same data points on the map. Why? Because it’s easy to dismiss another person’s point of view when you are sure you right. But in the emotional world of aging parents, right runs a weak second to losses. And one of the most painful losses of aging is the end of driving.
It’s not surprising that the data points on the map would elicit different assessments from and aging parents and their adult children. What is critical about this conversation is the non-judgmental forum aging parents are afforded to tell their point of view. It provides them with a way to process the loss that will eventually come to pass. It also gives adult children a moment to consider how they will feel when it’s their turn to give up driving, a consideration evokes newfound compassion for their parent’s loss.
The findings of the Driving Data Map have many uses. One of them is to ask the aging parents three important questions:
- What do you think is the biggest driving skill concern the data map is indicating?
- What do you think is the best approach to dealing with this concern?
- What’s possible?
Giving aging parents control over the interpretation and management of the data of one of the most daunting losses of their lives helps to preserve their dignity and choice when it’s needed the most. It also asks them to take the lead in workarounds, retraining, restrictions and phased driving routine in their efforts to keep driving as long as possible