Question: I am concerned about my dad’s driving. He is still youngish, age 72, but he had a stroke last year and, while he has mostly recovered, his driving is just not as good as it had been before the stroke. I fear he is a risk to himself and others. Is there a tactful way to discuss this with him? Should I speak with his doctor?
Answer: As we watch our parents age, we will see their world shrink, day by day and year over year. They may lose mobility which limits their options for travel or in the kind of home they can comfortably live. They may retire or be forced to stop working due to a decline in health which, in turn, means they must rely on “fixed-income” from retirement accounts or social security.
Finally, they begin to lose touch with friends and colleagues through death or distance. These lost relationships were previously an important part of their social, emotional, and intellectual life.
Losing the freedom to drive can be a further emotional blow, no matter what age. A stroke can affect driving ability by killing or damaging brain cells and possibly causing long-term brain damage. This kind of damage can affect the important coordination needed when driving. Take heart in research released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that shows that
most stroke survivors do return to independent, safe driving.
Your relationship with your father should dictate how you approach this subject. If you are close with him, you can simply express your concerns and ask him if he feels as confident now when driving as he has in the past. Whatever his answer, you can ask him if he would speak with his
doctor about his driving ability. His doctor can administer some simple tests to measure his vision and responses. If the doctor deems that his vision, coordination, and response time may, in fact, be handicapping him in terms of driving, it is not the end of his driving career. Physical therapy can help bring back many of these lost abilities. Encourage him to continue with therapy and make one of the goals for the therapy being a return to safe and confident driving.
If your father shrugs off your concerns or will not agree to see his doctor, you do have the option of making an anonymous report to the DMV of an unsafe driver. The DMV will request that he come in for a re-examination. I encourage you to try the doctor route first where you can work with him and be his ally in recovery. If he loses his license as the result of a DMV reexamination, it could be an extremely emotional event and just one more thing he “has lost” in his life.
A great book to get for your dad is the recent release by Sanjay Gupta, MD, titled “Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age.” Gupta states that we can build new brain cells at any age and provides a science-driven, step-by-step guide to protecting your mind from decline and actually improving cognitive function.
Physical therapy and the steps outlined in Gupta’s book will, hopefully, get your father’s brain back to full health so he can continue to enjoy the freedom of driving.
Liza Horvath has over 30 years of experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is a Licensed Professional Fiduciary. Liza currently serves as president of Monterey Trust Management. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a question, call (831) 646-5262 or email email@example.com
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