Is discretion truly the better part of valor?

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By Marianne DeloreyM.Delorey_headshot

I sat down recently with four card players. It turns out, only one was still driving. There seemed to be a common thread among the others – in all three cases, it seemed like they all had stories where driving had been taken away from them in a seemingly underhanded fashion. One lady recently moved back to Massachusetts from Florida. Her son told her to sell her car and they’d find her one up here. Well, conveniently, finding a new car has not become a priority.

Another lady explained how, when her husband went in for prostate surgery, the nurse told him he shouldn’t drive anymore and had the doctor sign off on the assessment. He had never had an accident or a ticket. His surgery, clearly, was not a long-term risk factor. He was baffled by this, but given he was just about to have surgery, he did not argue.

The last lady went in for her driving test. When she arrived, the tester insisted on using a DMV car instead of her own. Her unfamiliarity with the car contributed to her failing the test.

In each situation, maybe I’m not getting the whole story. But it does seem suspicious that in a random group of elders, three out of four had had this major decision made for them in such a sneaky manner.

So, is it better to be upfront with your elder about the need to stop driving or is it better to not confront them? I would argue in most cases when elders are cognitively intact the answer is that honesty is the best policy. Honesty treats the elder with the respect they deserve. More, it allows a conversation where you can work together to fix issues that contribute to unsafe driving, and if they can’t be fixed, it allows your elder to save face and give up driving on her own.

The Massachusetts DMV has some solid advice – consider a professional assessment. The tester is not going to have an emotional investment in the test. They are trained to determine if you are safe to drive. Nothing more, nothing less.

But how do you suggest this without offending someone? You don’t. You admit at the onset that you know this is going to be a hard conversation, but that you want what is best for them and you want to work with them to give them every chance to keep their license.

“I’m concerned about your ability to drive safely. I care about you, but we need to be honest about what is going on. Let me tell you what I see, and maybe we can keep you on the road longer.”

  • When was your last eye exam?
  • Have you considered not driving at night?
  • When was your last ticket? Accident? How serious was it?
  • Can you check with your doctor about any medications that might impair your reaction time or judgement?
  • What else can we do to keep you safe on the road?
  • How do you feel about having an assessment?

And if there is resistance, anger, denial, or other nonproductive reactions, it is fair to let him or her know: “The law states I can report my concerns to the registry. So can your neighbor, your friend or your doctor. I’d rather have this conversation with you, and see if we can do something together than embarrass you when someone reports you. Please, work with me on this.”

Family relationships are complicated. The conversation may be awkward, but if you truly have your elder’s best interests at heart, it is worth the risk.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.