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auto therapy

My mother has been retired for 20 years. I've noticed that her driving skills are deteriorating lately. Her mind is sharp but her reactions aren't as quick as they used to be. I'm nervous about getting in the car when she's driving, but I'm having trouble talking to her about it. We're best friends and I don't want to put the relationship at risk. Any advice on approaching this situation?

- Worried daughter

A sure sign that it's time to give up driving is your family's refusal to ride with you. So is forgetting how to find your way home, or arriving home with bumper damage and forgetting how it happened. If this was the case with your mother, you could simply throw away the keys - because she probably wouldn't remember what she did with them.

You're right. These delicate conversations - whether it's talking to your kids about sex or your parents about giving up driving - can be difficult to initiate. Steering a casual conversation in the direction of someone who has experienced the same scenario is one way to approach it. Just make sure the conversation is two-way. Plant the seed, but let your mom think it was her idea. (You could even challenge her to take back-to-back driving tests with you and see where the chips fall. Just be prepared to give up your driving privileges, too).

Be supportive of your mother as she transitions into this frightening stage of losing her personal independence. It sounds like you two have a fantastic relationship, and this is an opportunity to spend more time together. Remind your mother that even when you're not available as a chauffeur, she'll still have a good degree of mobility. Buses are one option. Taxi cabs are handy. Or perhaps she'd prefer an electric motorized scooter. Then she can really get away with driving on the sidewalks.

We all know that our reflexes, eyesight and muscle strength deteriorate with time. That's why there's an arbitrary retirement age for airline pilots. The marine industry also acknowledges the age factor - with mandatory medical testing for seafarers increasing from every five to every two years after the age of 40.

Some provinces, but not all, require licensed drivers to pass mandatory medical exams from age 70 and up. Suggesting a visit to your mother's physician is a good idea. A doctor can help remind her that driving is a privilege, and determine whether it's time for her to relinquish her keys.

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An officer friend in Victoria reports that the police receive lots of calls for "impaired" drivers which turn out to have age-related driving issues rather than drug or alcohol impairment. The medical conditions that can accompany old age, rather than age itself, are the issue. The aging baby boom population in our fair country is such that, according to Statistics Canada, in a decade or so we'll have more seniors than children.

We can all sympathize with your mother. Owning a car is an important personal freedom, but remind her that it can also be a financial burden. Sure, she'll be giving up some independence but she'll also gain some luxury. Tell her to think of the savings - no more insurance, fuel, licensing, or repair bills, not to mention lease payments. How can those costs compete with the price of a monthly transit pass, or even regular taxi trips? Your mother could use the extra money for a holiday (with you), or to up the ante at bingo. In addition, she won't have to look for parking spaces, or pay parking tickets. When she's out for the night and wants a glass of wine, never again will she have to be the designated driver.

There is another option your mom might like. The aforementioned officer friend volunteers a few hours each week driving elderly residents of his neighbourhood around on errands. Whenever he mentions it, I can't help imagining the thrill of the widowed ladies when a handsome young man in a sports car pulls up. "It's amazing," says my friend's mother, "just how quickly those women who otherwise claim to be infirm are able to get themselves into the passenger seat of his car."