Step 2: Developing a Plan of Action
In Step 1, you were encouraged to collect a broad sampling of information about the person’s driving, and other behaviors and actions. From this you will need to look at options for formally assessing driving skills, and transportation resources other than driving available in the community.
Once you have this information, sit down and talk with the person to determine:
- Is the person driving safely within the acknowledged limits of his or her capabilities?
- If there is a problem, is it correctable?
- Do other transportation options need to be identified?
Tips for Conversation
If the information you collected indicates a safety problem, you can do several things to increase the likelihood that a conversation about driving will go well.
- Base the recommendations in the action plan on the observations from Step 1 (page 2).
- Be sensitive to ways you can help older adults preserve their self-respect. Try reasoning and use compassion. Appreciate the significance of a driver’s license to the older person. Empathize with and listen to the older driver.
- To lead the conversation, pick someone in the family or a trusted friend who the older adult driver may “hear” better than others. In some families, it works better to have just one person have the conversation. In other families, having several family members express their concern will underscore the family’s concern for the older person’s safety.
- Present your concerns in the least-threatening terms of your own feelings and perceptions. Use “I” messages rather than “You” messages. For example, say, “I am concerned about your safety when you are driving,” rather than, “You’re no longer a safe driver.”
- Among the points you might want to make in your conversation:
- Indicate that you have noticed changes in the person that seem to be making it more difficult to drive.
- Note that we all age in different ways and at different rates.
- Reinforce that thousands of older adults each day are taking control of similar situations by changing how and when they drive. Many stop driving at night or avoid rush-hour traffic and bad weather. Many stick to familiar nearby streets and rearrange their schedules to keep doing the things that keep them active in their communities, such as volunteering and socializing.
- Don’t be put off by negative reactions. Remember that it is hard for people to cut back on or stop their driving if they are not ready to do so, or if they believe they are good drivers. Major lifestyle changes are never easy.
- Highlight a positive outcome by focusing on how the older adult driver will be able to continue to stay connected to specific things that are important. Do not judge the person’s priorities.
- If possible, identify a trusted friend or family member who has already had to cut back on or stop driving, and who is taking actions to stay connected to the things that are important to them. Ask if he or she would be willing to speak with the older person about how it is possible to keep connected to meaningful activities in the community.
If you still believe that there is a safety problem, work together to develop a written action plan (see sample plan on page 13.) Ideally, discussing a plan of action should take place before problems exist. Regardless of the timing, however, the goal of such a plan should be to preserve the independence and freedom of the person. The plan should keep the person connected to the activities that give meaning to and that enhance the quality of life.
Developing that plan will take time. It will involve a series of conversations with the person. While many concerned family members and friends might play a central role in holding these conversations, others might turn to health professionals, such as a physician, to start and/or continue the discussion about driver safety. In many of those cases, the family and friends serve more in a support role for the older person.
The focus of any action plan should be (1) to enhance the independence and decision-making of the older adult, and (2) to maximize community safety. Determine if there are situations where the person can continue to drive successfully. In some cases, the plan may require changing the time of day when the older person does errands or drives to appointments to avoid heavy traffic. In other cases, the plan may require changing places where one shops or socializes with friends to avoid driving on busy roads or in more dangerous driving situations. It may also mean doing an activity less often or arranging for the person to carpool to an activity and thus share the driving responsibility.
Implementing a plan that changes how and when a person drives can have an enormous effect on families. Families themselves often must begin to play more active roles in ensuring the older adult can continue to get around the community. For family members who live nearby, the change in roles may mean providing rides for the older person; whereas for family who live more than an hour away, the change could mean spending time on the phone to coordinate transportation services or providing financial support to pay for those services.
Action plans range from the simple to the complex. An action plan might call for the older adult to get a formal driving evaluation from a driving rehabilitation specialist to identify areas of strength and need. A plan also might clearly spell out ways people can get to events and activities when they cannot drive themselves.
Many communities have programs offered through public transportation systems that give people practice and confidence in using public transportation to get around. Still, many older adults are reluctant for several reasons to use public transportation when they stop driving. Some older adults with health problems may not find these options practical or possible. Therefore, it is important for older adults to become familiar with and confident using transportation alternatives before they are asked to become reliant on alternatives to their car.
As noted earlier, Area Agencies on Aging have information about virtually all transportation programs and services in their areas. To find information about your local Area Agency on Aging, contact the Eldercare Locator, a national service you can call toll-free at 800-677-1116. Ask for your local Office on Aging, or go to the Web site at www.eldercare.gov.