I bet if I asked for a show of hands for any of you who have flown on a commercial airline within the past year, there would be only a precious few who did not raise their hands. Now, if I were to ask if you had made a plan about what you would do if one of the engines failed and the plane was forced to make an unexpected landing scarcely a hand would raise. And that’s okay, because all the airline professionals have logged hundreds of hours training so that they know exactly how to get everyone safely on the ground and off the plane under almost every circumstance.
Now, if I were to ask how many of you have an older loved one who depends on you in some fashion, how many of you would raise your hand? It may be your aging parent, a spouse or partner with some medical challenges or the neighbor that does not seem to have family whom everyone on the block has adopted. Now, do you have a plan for next steps…the call that comes when you least expect it?
Every 67 seconds, someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and that is only one of the multitude of cognitive issues that can affect aging people. Every 105 seconds a 65+ year old in the United States is hospitalized with a fractured hip. Eighteen percent of auto fatalities are among drivers 65+ years old, a rate 50% higher than the rest of the population. And then there are the other chronic health or simply accidental issues that can arise among our older loved ones, and the vast majority of those who will be caregivers to them are not prepared with a plan. Hope is not a plan!
Let’s start with how you can make a plan. How about the talk no one wants to have with their older loved one…is it safe for them to drive? I was at a talk recently where the doctor who hosted the session talked about what I would call the “pre-talk” when it came to safe driving and aging. And the pre-talk also has a pre-plan. Consider this to be the small step toward a dialogue with your older loved one that will help prepare everyone for their healthier aging…and your older loved one gets the chance to buy-in. You can choose which path feels comfortable for you. One is called the Driver Planning Agreement and it simply is your asking your older loved one to read a sheet that they will sign if they agree that they will consent to talk about their safe driving with a person whom they will designate on the agreement. The other is about letting them begin to assess how they, in fact, are driving… It is a self-rating test that will give them an objective opportunity to rate themselves in a way that can open the door to a conversation they may not otherwise have had with you or other loved one. And they still get to control their lives and their plan.
This is just one way to addressing the changes of aging, and it is just a start. But it also is the beginning of a plan! And you will find it is not so difficult after all. All conversations have to begin somewhere, and this just could be your “road map” to a better place for talking about driving as well as talking about everything else on the life path.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.