The thought of taking keys from an elderly parent is uncomfortable for most. So uncomfortable in fact that many avoid even having a conversation about it. That’s because it can be one of the hardest conversations to have. Driving may be one of the last things that allows a parent to feel independent and self-sufficient.
While it may be a difficult conversation it is also an important one. As parents get older they may face a number of new physical and mental challenges that can interfere with or prohibit safe driving. Declines in vision, hearing, and mobility can significantly impact driving ability. Side effects from medications can also interfere. Cognitive issues are no exception. Memory loss and confusion can create a dangerous situation on the road.
So how do you know when it’s time to consider taking the keys? Watch your parents driving closely. Do reaction times seem slower? Are they drifting in the lane or easily startled or distracted? Also, listen for stories about getting lost, confused, or recent accidents (no matter how minor).
If you’re seeing warning signs and feel it’s time to have a conversation with your parent keep in mind it will likely be hard for them to hear. Stay calm while you show your concern. Try to imagine things from their perspective. If necessary, involve other family members or providers in the conversation. Let them know it’s coming from a place of love and concern – not judgement. It can also be helpful to work together to develop a plan that will provide alternative transportation methods to ensure continued mobility.
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Being a caregiver is never an easy job. It can take its toll physically, emotionally, and financially. The process of watching a parent lose their independence is hard enough. That coupled with the fact that you probably have a number or other responsibilities – work, small children, a relationship to maintain – can easily result in significant stress. It can leave you feeling torn and exhausted.
It’s important to remember that in addition to caring for your parent you need to take care of yourself. Watch for signs of stress. Do you constantly feel exhausted? Have you experienced a significant amount of weight gain or loss recently? Does it seem impossible to get enough sleep or social interaction outside of your daily duties? Is your mind consumed with worry, anger, or guilt? Maybe you just feel incredibly sad and overwhelmed. These are all signs of caregiver stress and can ultimately lead to burnout. This can impact your overall physical and mental health. Some studies show that caregivers are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, long-term medical problems, weakened immunity, and obesity.
If you notice signs of caregiver stress it’s important to take action. Enlisting the help of others can work towards reducing your overall stress. Many find it helpful to delegate some responsibilities to others. Maybe there is someone else willing to do the grocery shopping or sit and visit with your parent while you take an evening off. Find a support group or caregiver resources in your area. Try to establish some respite care so that you can do something for yourself at least once a week. Recognize that you just can’t do it all and there’s no such thing as the “perfect caregiver.” Give yourself permission to take care of yourself – not just your parent!
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