BUFFALO, NY- This week's horrific wrong-way crash on the I-190 that left three people dead and two critically injured, has a lot of families thinking about their own elderly loved ones behind the wheel. Some are safe and perfectly fine to drive. But for others, it's time to have that difficult conversation about taking away the keys.
All their lives mom and dad have been the protectors, and they have known best. But now you need to step in and take away their car keys, because you know deep down you need to protect them and you know best. Leilani Pelletier of the Alzheimer's Association of WNY says it's never an easy conversation.
"It's not just about the driving. It's about the role; Parent - child. And really it speaks to your independence, to be able to drive, so it's such an emotional and deep issue, someone's ability to drive, that that's why it's so hard," said Pelletier.
Mom or dad might not even realize there's a problem, and that's why Pelletier says a delicate approach is needed.
"Understand that people that are having trouble driving, don't always see their deficits the way other people do."
Here's a way to start the conversation:
It's not really about, 'Mom, Dad, you're not driving well anymore. You can't drive.' It's about. 'Mom, Dad, we're going to find different ways to get you to the grocery store, to get you to the doctor, to get you to your volunteer obligations," Pelletier said. "Say 'Mom, Dad, I love you. You drove me around all these years. We're going to find a way for that to happen now [for you.]"
Some are calling on New York State lawmakers to create a law to re-test elderly drivers. That may or may not happen. In the meantime, concerned loved ones could try to get elderly drivers to voluntarily be re-tested. It takes all of the emotion out of a difficult situation.
"You can go to a neutral place and have the driving evaluated. You can have the driving evaluator recommend to them what they should or should not be doing," said Pelletier.
Everyone's situation is different. Social workers at the Alzheimer's Association or at your local Department of Senior Services can actually be there to mediate.
"What I counsel families on most of the time is saying, they're not going to agree with you. They're not going to agree with you right away that they should stop driving. That's a rare event. So prepare yourself that this isn't going to be easy. It's not going to be one conversation. And rarely do people just hand over the keys and say ok."
There is another option if you feel you've exhausted all others. The NYS DMV has a form, DS-7, which is available on its website, and you can find it the PDF to the left. It allows concerned citizens to report a driver who appears to be driving unsafely. That person would then undergo a driver review.
Resources such as a Senior Self Assessment can help seniors evaluate their ability to be safe behind the wheel.
Here are other organizations that offer Senior Driving Classroom Courses in our area:
AAA - 1-800-836-2582
AARP - 1-888-687-2277 (There are courses offered in 28 different communities throughout WNY. Call them and ask for the location nearest you. You do not need to be a member of AARP to attend.)
Alzheimer's Assocaition of WNY - 626-0600
ECMC Outpatient Driver Evaluation Program 898-3225. $275 fee - not covered by health insurance.
UB Dementia and Driving Study - 645-5573