Giving up Driving: Easing the Transition

Helping an older adult give up driving on an emotional level

Giving up driving won't be easy for the person in your care, both from a practical standpoint and an emotional one. No more driving can result in increased isolation and dependency. In some cases, it means that an older adult can no longer live on his own.

You can help support him emotionally through this transition in several important ways:

  • Listen. You may feel like changing the subject when he speaks wistfully about driving or his car, but resist the impulse, especially during the first few weeks after he stops driving. He is mourning a major loss, and talking about it will help him come to terms with his grief. Don't attempt to jolly him out of his sad mood or find the silver lining in the situation. Instead, just listen.
  • Share memories. Encourage him to talk about some of his cherished driving memories, look at photos together, and ask about his favorite driving experiences. Revisiting the role driving has played is his life will help him go through the grieving process.
  • Watch for signs of depression. If he shows signs of melancholy or seems withdrawn or particularly irritable, these could be symptoms of depression. Other symptoms can include sleeplessness, fatigue, and loss of appetite or excessive eating. If you suspect that he's depressed, consult his physician.
  • Be there. Make a point of being even more available than usual during this transition period. Check in regularly and be sure to include him in family activities. Encourage him to keep up social contacts and offer to drive him when you can. If you live far away, check in frequently by phone and visit as often as possible.

Helping an older adult give up driving on a practical level

Along with supporting an older friend or relative emotionally when he has to give up driving, you can also find practical ways to help him make the transition to being without a car.

  • Learn about paratransit. Research local paratransit and other alternative transportation options, and accompany him the first few times he tries public transportation to make him feel more comfortable with it.
  • Identify informal transportation options. Brainstorm about possible transportation opportunities. Is there a neighbor or friend who would be willing to drive him for a small fee or even no fee? Options that  incorporate opportunities for social contacts are especially helpful, such as carpooling with other older adults to activities at the local senior center.
  • Help him find activities that don't involve driving. He may need help, especially at first, finding ways to occupy his time without a car. Suggest possible volunteer activities and other projects. Is there a school nearby that needs tutors, for example, or a hospital where he could read to sick children? Offer to help him if he wants to launch a house project, like organizing his garage or planting a garden. Make sure he's aware of local activities and resources for older adults in your area.
  • Do some additional research to find information for him. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's website, Getting Around, offers advice for caregivers, as well as information about transportation resources around the country. AARP's State-by-State Guide to Transportation Alternatives helps you find information for your friend or relative's region, even if you don't live nearby. The American Public Transportation Association offers a directory of mass transportation resources around the country.


Connie Matthiessen

Constance (Connie) Matthiessen, senior editor, has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting and has written for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, BabyCenter. See full bio