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How to Keep Aging Parents in the Driver’s Seat



Having “the talk” with aging parents on when to hang up the car keys is a difficult one. Thanks to modern technology, you might be able to push off that conversation for a few more years.

The answer might be to simply buy a new car.

There are occasions before giving a seminar on “having the talk,” when people will ask if I’ll be discussing the birds and the bees. There comes a time when adult children must have a conversation, or series of conversations, with aging parents to discuss later life issues, such as wills, estates and the like. This is what we mean by “having the talk.”

Often people tell me that they look forward to my seminar because they want to have “the talk” soon with their parents — but they’re not interested in wills and estates. They want to tell their parents for their own safety, and the safety of others, that it’s time to stop driving.

The moment that one’s children request that they give up their ability to drive is a blow to one’s sense of freedom, pride and independence. It isn’t a moment that anyone enjoys having.

Unfortunately, like most aspects of “the talk,” it’s a necessary and vital conversation that we’ll likely have. Knowing how to address it properly and with compassion is important — but not yet.

Not until you’ve explored what’s available in newer car models. The alternative to taking away your parents’ keys might be to buy them a new car.

Sheryl Connelly, in-house futurist for Ford Motor Company, points out that the need to surrender one’s car keys can be a major problem given that people are living longer, and thus their inability to maintain independence and mobility with their automobile can last for many years. Sheryl points out that discussing the need to take away a parent’s car keys “is a difficult talk because it’s about one’s dignity.”

Connelly believes that the work that car companies are doing to improve the safety for drivers of their automobiles can have a major impact on the ability for seniors to drive longer and safer. Although we’re not at the point of having cars that drive themselves (autonomous driving), we are living with features in new cars that create a significantly safer driving experience than that old “boat” that your Dad still drives.

Features like “blind spot alerts,” “attention assists” that alert you when you may be getting sleepy, rear view cameras that help for driving in reverse and multiple air bags everywhere creates a driving experience that is safer for drivers of all ages.

Sheryl points out the fascinating process that Ford undertakes in their research that has led to improving the safety of the driving experience, specifically for the older driver.

“We use what we call a “Third Age Suit” to mimic the experience of the older driver in order to understand how to improve their experience in our new cars,” says Sheryl.

This Third Age Suit actually creates an experience for the research driver that is similar to that of an older driver. The suit restricts some of the mobility that the older driver may have in a typical car, such as stiffening their knee joints to understand how they get in and out of an automobile or using gloves to limit the strength that seniors may have in their hands (The gloves mimic the reduction of tactile sensation in the fingertips). It even addresses specific conditions such as the impact that diabetes or glaucoma can have on the older driver.

Source: Ford Motor Co.

Many of us are inclined to allow Mom or Dad to continue to drive that “classic” car that they have or get them another older car when they need one, but when you recognize the work that car companies like Ford are doing to improve safety in newer cars, you realize that you may be able to put off having “the talk” with your parents.

That’s “the talk” about taking away the car, not the one about the birds and the bees, which is a whole other topic these days when it comes to older Americans.

DISCLOSURE: No, I don’t drive a Ford.

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