When it’s Time to Hang up the Keys – and How to Have That Difficult Discussion
As your parents age, you may be realizing that they need more and more help with their daily activities. Perhaps your mother may be forgetting to take her medication, or your father may be having a hard time getting in and out of the bath. All of these changes are upsetting, but perhaps the most disturbing change can be your parent’s sudden inability to drive safely.
Obviously, many seniors are unwilling to give up their independence in any way, and having a car and being able to drive is a major part of that. Your parent may not realize how unsafe it is for them to be behind the wheel, and they may resent you if you tell them they can no longer drive or if you take their driver’s license away.
However, the dangers of continuing to drive when it is unsafe to do so are all too real. In 2014, a 79-year-old woman killed three people and injured four others at a church when she accidentally put the car in reverse instead of drive. Unfortunately, these situations are becoming more frequent. According to the U.S. Census, the number of Americans over the age of 70 is set to increase greatly in upcoming years, from 28.5 million in 2011 to 52.7 million in 2030. Statistics show that drivers over the age of 75 have higher crash rates, including higher rates of fatality behind the wheel, than the average driver.
There are many signs that it may be time to reevaluate whether a loved one should drive. Signs of impaired driving include unexplained dents and scrapes on a vehicle, frequent “close calls” when driving, drifting in and out of traffic lanes, difficulty working gas versus brake pedals, and a delayed response to sudden changes in a traffic pattern.
Before you put away the keys for good, it may be worthwhile to make it easier for your loved one to continue driving. For example, many types of medications can cause delayed response times and drowsiness – see if any of those medicines can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Also, you may want to make sure that older drivers avoid driving in high-traffic areas, especially during rush hour. Mom may be able to drive to church or the grocery store, but driving on the highway could be a whole different story.
So how can you approach this difficult topic with a loved one who possibly should not continue to drive? One way to avoid being the “bad guy” in this situation is to ask your parent to take a driver’s test at your local DMV or driving school. If they cannot pass a simple driving test, this might help them to accept that it is not safe for them to be behind the wheel. Your loved one may be more willing to hear the opinion of a neutral third party than the opinions of family members.
No matter what you do, it is important to make sure that your parent will not be able to hurt themselves or anyone else by driving unsafely. Giving up independence is never easy, but sometimes the hardest thing to do is often the best thing for yourself and your family.
Ask Kit Kat – Raccoon Update & Nocturnal Animals
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about 1) the St. Paul raccoon who was climbing the UBS building and 2) the habits of mammals that are becoming increasingly nocturnal?
Kit Kat: Well, first, let’s talk about the raccoon. It turns out it was a female, and she was quite healthy. On the same day that she was trapped on top of the 25+ story bank building after scaling the entire facade, she was taken to a wooded area and released on private property near the suburb of Shakopee. According to Suzanne MacDonald, a raccoon expert at York University in Toronto, “Raccoons don’t think ahead very much, so raccoons don’t have very good impulse control.” Phil Jenni, director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, hypothesizes, that she just got scared, and so reverted to what raccoons normally do—they climb when stressed. Whatever the reason, the story has a happy outcome.
Now, on to the 2nd topic of how more mammals are becoming nocturnal as a reaction to dealing with the encroachment of humans in their habitat. According to a new study published recently in Science magazine, “Humans’ presence alone can cause animals across continents—including coyotes, elephants and tigers—to alter their sleep schedules.” It turns out, mammals have been regulating their activity for centuries, depending on external threats. For example, after the dinosaur period, they became more active during the day. Now the reverse is happening, according to Kaitlyn Gaynor, an ecologist and graduate student in environmental science at UC-Berkely, who led the study. They used data from 76 studies about 62 species living on 6 continents to come to their conclusions. Therefore, “an animal that typically split its activity evenly between the day and night would increase its proportion of nocturnal activity to 68 percent of total activity near human disturbance.”
Humans may not be actively threatening the mammals, but the mammals feel stressed nonetheless. Coyotes in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, for example, are becoming more active at night merely because of biking and hiking in the area. Tigers in Nepal are behaving likewise. As their favorite trails are used more often by humans, they too, have changed their habits, and shifted to a more nocturnal schedule to be active. Future research will investigate how these changed patterns will affect mammals’ diet and reproductive patterns. (Steve Karnowski, “St.Paul Raccoon Set Free after Scaling 25-story Tower,” The Associated Press as published in The Virginian-Pilot, June 14, 2018/ Julia Jacobs, “Mammals Go Nocturnal in Bid to Avoid Humans,” The New York Times, June 15, 2018)
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Emily A. Martin
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
Emily A. Martin is a Shareholder of Hook Law practicing in the areas of elder law, estate and trust administration, estate planning, asset protection planning, litigation and dispute resolution, guardianship and conservatorship, long-term care planning, special needs planning and financial planning. To date, Ms. Martin has overseen over 100 guardianship and conservatorship matters. In addition to being admitted to the Virginia State Bar and North Carolina State Bar, she is licensed to practice before the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ms. Martin is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and Virginia Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. She is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington and Regent University School of Law. Prior to joining the firm in 2018, Emily worked as an estate planning and elder law attorney in Virginia Beach for several years.
- Elder Law
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