Like most people, I suppose, when I was younger I thought my parents were infallible. I thought they could do anything, and that they would be able to keep doing anything they wanted to forever.
Of course, now that I’m an adult and I see my parents retired and getting older, I know that’s not true.
The Key to Staying Healthy for Aging Parents – Mobility
Now the big issue is keeping them independent and active. I worry because I’ve seen so often how older people go downhill quickly when they can’t move around anymore. They lose hope, they give up, and they stop living even while they are still alive.
The more that seniors can go out and get involved in things, the better chance they have of living longer, better lives. My mom adores getting involved in her volunteer work, for example, and I don’t know what will happen when she can’t do that anymore.
Of course, one of the keys to maintaining independence is maintaining the ability to drive, and driving can be expensive. Between fuel costs, maintenance costs, and insurance, it’s not cheap to have a car. That’s why I encouraged my parents to do a motor vehicle insurance comparison. There are organizations that offer insurance discounts for seniors, and a comparison helped my parents discover these discounts and verify they had the right coverage limits too.
Help Parents Recognize That A Change in Driving Status Is Inevitable
I’ve already told my Mom that when she no longer feels confident driving, I’d happily drive her to her various appointments. I know how important it is to her to be able to get out and about, and when I offered my help I could see in her eyes that she’d never considered this possibility. Her reaction was part appreciation and part horror: she knows as I do that when she can longer drive herself it will be a big shock, and a big loss. Loss of independence is a very hard thing to deal with…for anyone.
In my opinion, it’s important for everyone to talk to their parents about what will happen when they lose their ability to drive, mostly because many of our parents haven’t ever considered this possibility. My Dad, for example, will be a little better about losing the ability to drive when the time comes than my Mom. As long as Dad can get out to the golf course and hang around with his buddies, his life will be complete. Besides – my parents only have one car. Dad is basically chauffeured around now anyways.
The point is, discussing the possibility of losing the ability to drive and making a plan is a good way to have a healthy conversation about driving. You may learn that your parents would appreciate some help getting around right now, in fact.
Providing the Right Safety Measures To Older Drivers
One thing I did a little while ago was make sure my parent’s car was well-equipped with the right safety features. Along with making sure they take it in for regular maintenance, checking their spare tire, and making sure their car insurance included roadside service, I also added an emergency kit in the trunk.
When older people get stranded there is a greater danger of death or serious illness from the hardship. They need water, a heat source and other necessities in case the unwanted happens. Some of the things I added to their kit in the trunk are:
- A flashlight
- Freeze-dried food packs
I also made my parents enter the 21st century and get a cell phone. My mom used to tease me about how when she was my age they didn’t have a phone with them all the time, they only had one phone in the kitchen. I wanted them to always have a way to contact us, or the authorities in an emergency though, so now she dutifully carries her cell phone with her, although she still can’t text, or retrieve her voicemail.
Other safety measures for older drivers include:
- Making sure they know how the local bus system (if available) works, what times it runs, etc. Riding the bus might be preferable to an older driver who is reluctant to drive in heavy traffic, drive in evenings, etc., so making sure they have a bus pass and a working knowledge of the system is a good idea.
- Making sure the driver’s seat and steering wheel are adjusted as optimally as possible. Many people are unaware that their steering wheel is adjustable, for example, and even if your favorite older driver knows how to adjust the seat or steering wheel, they might not be strong enough to work the levers. Offer to help them get everything adjusted correctly, and make sure anyone who borrows the car does this too.
- Many older drivers have difficulty driving at night, largely because human night vision deteriorates with age. If your favorite older driver has trouble seeing at night, you can investigate upgrading their headlight bulbs. Many after-market light bulbs offer improved performance, and just about any auto parts store has a few different after-market brands to choose from.
- Be sure to check over your favorite older person’s car for dents, scrapes, and scratches on a regular basis. If they’ve got any damage on the vehicle, that could be a sign that they’re no longer confident parking the car…and it might be a sign that you need to start driving them around.
It can be incredibly difficult to talk about driving safety with an elderly parent, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid the topic. Safety statistics show that older drivers are at a much greater risk of accident or injury than the greater population. It’s your duty to help your parents – or aunts or uncles or neighbors – stay safe on the road.
Guest author Melissa Cameron is a proud mother of two daughters, and lives with her husband and family in Austin, Texas. Her parents live right next door, and she is happy to be able to spend as much time with them as she does. As a freelance writer she often researches better things like car insurance quotes online, and other ways to live a better healthier life, and writes about parenting, and helping her own parents as they get older.