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Helping seniors who lose their driver’s license

Has your mom or dad been ordered to stop driving? It’s a letter most seniors dread opening. Doctors are legally required to inform the ministry of transportation when a patient has limitations that are considered unsafe for driving, such as poor eyesight that cannot be corrected with surgery or glasses. In addition, screening tests given by a doctor may reveal cognitive challenges: if something were to happen on the road, the driver may lack the capacity to respond quickly, or properly survey what’s happening around the car. As a preventive measure, the ministry may suspend that person’s license.

When a senior is no longer permitted to drive it can be a huge blow — akin to losing a limb or a spouse, according to some experts.  “It goes beyond a sense of loss,” says Heather Palmer, Regional Director of Memory Care for BayBridge. “There’s a sense of losing control and losing their independence. It’s a real shot to their self-esteem to be told they are no longer allowed to do something they’ve been doing for 60-odd years, something their 16-year-old grandchild can do.” Here’s what you can do to help.

1. Simplify the message

If cognitive difficulties are behind the loss, it can be challenging for seniors to accept why this is happening. One day they’re allowed to drive; the next day they’re told they can’t. Seniors may respond by insisting they’re good drivers — no accidents, no tickets. Even though a test confirms they no longer have the cognitive capacity demanded by driving, they may lack awareness or fail to connect how day-to-day forgetfulness affects their driving skill.

How can families answer when seniors frequently ask why they’re not allowed to drive anymore? “Have everyone in the family stick to a simple, consistent message,” says Palmer. “You might say, ‘The doctor is concerned your brain has changed in ways that it’s no longer safe for you to drive. That’s OK, because we will make sure it does not affect what you like to go out and do.’ Eventually they will understand and hopefully accept it.”

If you disagree with the suspension decision and would like to know the process to have the license reinstated, look under “driver licensing” on your province’s ministry of transportation website; connect here for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

2. Maintain routines

As a family, work together to make sure Dad still gets to his favourite card night, or Mom continues doing her laps at the pool. Palmer says it’s important for seniors to maintain control over their lives, stay active and engage in activities they enjoy. This contributes to a sense of wellbeing that helps seniors function better (read more about the important connection between aging and happiness here). Loss of control and independence often leads to a negative outlook that can cause an overall decline in health.

With input from your parent, can your family divide and conquer driving responsibilities and chores like groceries? Can you research “transportation services for seniors” to see what’s available through local community groups and businesses?

3. Consider senior living

If your family is having difficulty supporting your loved one, you might start a conversation about considering a retirement residence. Your parent may benefit from all-inclusive senior living at BayBridge, which includes transportation as well as meals, housekeeping, fitness, social activities and assistance where needed. You might find it helpful to look at this guide to choosing a retirement community or you can take a community for a test drive with a trial stay. “That’s one of the big attractions to our communities: seniors don’t have to grocery shop and they can hop on our bus for social outings and errands,” says Palmer.


Book a tour today to see how you can maintain independence at a BayBridge Senior Living community.

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