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Matt Gurwell
Matt Gurwell
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Family Dynamics and the Older Driver

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Last fall, I received a telephone call from a very troubled and frustrated young lady (“Mary”), pleading that I provide her with some resolution to what has developed into a family battle.

The battle involves a family debate over the driving abilities of their 83 year old father. Mary says her family has become completely divided on the issue, some thinking her father is fine to continue driving, and some afraid that he is going to cause a terrible accident if he doesn’t stop driving immediately.

Mary comes from a large family and has eight siblings. Over the years, Mary and all but one sibling have moved out of state from their parents. In 2009, their mother passed away, and dad has continued living alone in the family home. Mary explains that there was never any division or unrest between siblings until the passing of their mother. For reasons she did not share, friction between the adult children has continued to grow and fester since mom passed away.

As Mary was describing the family dynamics, I was fighting off visions of the Cuban Missile Crisis. On one front, you have a platoon of siblings accusing the others of being mean and just wanting to take one of dad’s last remaining liberties away from him, and an opposing faction accusing the first group of being cold and callused about his safety and the safety of others.

During our telephone conversation, Mary began crying and stated “It’s gotten so hostile, I actually plan to divorce my family, and will ask Dad to just remove my portion of inheritance to make all of the bickering stop.” Mary was clearly in pain and was reaching out for professional help.

Now what? How can Keeping Us Safe possibly help Mary, her siblings and most importantly, her father? Are our programs really suited for problems of this complexity?

Yes, absolutely…this is exactly what we do at Keeping Us Safe. In fact, one of our continuing education (CEU) programs is even titled “Bringing a Peaceful Resolve to Complex and Sensitive Senior Driving Issues”, which would probably have been a perfect sub-title for this article.

Our “Enhanced Self-Assessment” program for older drivers is exactly what Mary’s family (particularly her father!) needs. This individualized program has been designed to serve as a valuable tool in helping older drivers (and their families) make appropriate decisions regarding the future of ones safe driving career.

If the individual is a safe driver, we provide him or her with strategies on how to remain a safe driver as they continue to progress through the aging process. If driving retirement is the appropriate decision, then we provide the individual (and their family) with acceptable alternatives and access to resources along with a very specific plan to ensure a smooth and successful transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat.

And that’s exactly what we did!

First, we established one simple “ground rule” with Mary and her sibling; that no matter the outcome of my session with their father, all of the siblings would support (at least in the presence of their father) any decisions made. Everyone agreed…whew!

In September, I personally met with Mary’s father. After our 3 hour session, which was populated with driving and cognitive-related exercises (including an actual driving exercise), her father and I developed a mutually agreed upon plan of action for his driving future. His particular plan included several self-imposed driving restrictions, but stopped short of a complete cessation from driving. Mary’s father was very happy with the agreement that he and I developed, in fact he was actually very relieved.

As out time together was winding down and I was gathering my belongings, Mary’s father explained to me that since the passing of his wife, his children have become very divided on almost every single family-related issue imaginable, and it was very distressing for him to see. He added that he knew his driving wasn’t the best anymore, but he thought he was still OK to drive. He said, with tears in his eyes, that he had half of his children telling him one thing, and the others telling him another, and he found himself torn on what to do. With the constant bickering, he was not only unsure anymore of his own driving abilities, but was also unsure of how to stop the growing family turmoil surrounding what was “best” for him.

It was then that Mary’s father explained how relieved he was that someone completely independent and removed from the family dynamics and emotions, became involved in the mess (his word). There was a true sense of relief about his face now, not to mention a sincere smile. The tears in his eyes were gone, and he spoke now with a sense of peace and comfort. I then left his residence and made my trek back to Ohio.

I had occasion to speak with both Mary and her father last week. Mary said that although she and her siblings still debate the driving issue amongst themselves, they have all held to their word to support their father’s driving “agreement” with Keeping Us Safe, and that they now represent a unified front when talking to Dad about his driving.

During the conversation, Mary’s father said that despite his self-imposed driving restrictions, he is still very active in the community and has “figured out” how to get to where he wants to go without always having to drive. You could hear the smile in his voice.

It was a very rewarding conversation for me, as Keeping Us Safe was indeed able to bring a peaceful resolve to yet another family’s complex and sensitive senior driving issue.

If you are interested in helping the families of older drivers in your community, consider becoming a certified “Beyond Driving with Dignity” professional. To learn more about this new training and certification program, please contact Keeping Us Safe by email (info@keepingussafe.org) or by calling toll-free 877-907-8841.