A recent issue of The Washington Post carried an article about how to encourage elderly parents or relatives to stop driving due to a real or perceived inability to safely handle a vehicle.
The article cited a number of instances where a family decided to overtly or surreptitiously take the car keys from an elderly parent or relative. Tactics ranged from keeping or even hiding the keys to conspiring with a family doctor to inform the elder that he or she is no longer capable of driving.
These are not ‘tough conversations.’ They amount to a mandate. Or an intervention. Or worse, a preemptive move against an older driver. How humiliating this must be for the elder, even if he or she lacks the capacity to safely operate a vehicle any longer.
Unless the driver in question suffers from dementia or another debilitating illness, he or she should participate in the conversation as a stakeholder in his or her transportation future. Only when an elder is part of the conversation, feels respected, and contributes to the plan does this qualify as a ‘tough conversation.’
Tough conversations have stages. First is problem recognition: does the elder have sight or hearing problems? Slower reflexes? A tendency to lose his or her way in once familiar surroundings?
Next, prepare for the conversation by identifying resources, in this case transportation services. Fourth is the most difficult: namely engagement. What follows is decision making, devising a plan and implementation. While the discussion may get hot and heavy, the elder remains a player, not a side-lined has-been. Tough conversations are inclusive. Sometimes lengthy. Rarely easy. And at times unproductive.
But they preserve an elder’s dignity and self respect. And most of all, if conducted with care and patience, they strengthen the family fabric.