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Driving Danger: When to take the keys away

Posted by Mary Van Orman
Date:

An Aegis Living staff member greets a resident who is wearing headphones.

Whether your loved one should still be driving a car should be based on their physical and mental condition, not only on their age. Many people in good health can drive in their old age, but there are signs to look for and reasons why driving may not be safe. Understand that the subject of driving can be met with resistance. Your loved one may feel like they are losing their independence. You should be prepared before you enter into this discussion.

First, how can you determine whether your loved one should no longer be driving?

Declined vision. Cataracts, glaucoma, poor depth perception, deteriorated night vision, narrowed peripheral vision, and blurred vision are all very common in the elderly and have dangerous consequences for their ability to safely operate a car. Make sure your loved one has a regularly schedule eye appointment to keep on top of any possible issues.

Hearing loss. If an elderly loved one is experiencing hearing loss, this can affect their ability to hear warning signs while driving, such as an ambulance siren or a honk from another driver.

Physical limitations and flexibility. It takes strength in both arms, legs, and feet to properly control a vehicle when driving, especially in difficult weather conditions. A driver also needs to be able to turn their head and body with some flexibility to see their blind spots.

Disease. Many health conditions can greatly affect person’s driving physically and mentally. If your parent has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they can easily become disoriented and run the risk of actually getting lost while driving. Other conditions, like sleep apnea, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease, can physically limit a driver. In many cases, their condition can change suddenly with no warning.

Medications. Prescription drugs can have side effects that cause drowsiness and greatly slow reaction time.

Take a ride. This is an opportunity to observe how your loved one reacts and handles driving, navigating, and parking. Are they competent to drive at night? Can they drive at a higher speed? Do they have trouble reading signs? Do they drift into other lanes? Do they drive erratically – hitting curbs, abruptly changing lanes, not signaling, braking too quickly, or over accelerating?

If you think that your mom or dad should no longer be driving, how do you have this difficult discussion?

Set aside some uninterrupted time to have a candid talk about your concerns. Here are few tips:

Be empathetic. Giving up your driver’s license can be traumatic. Approach this conversation with love and concern for their safety. Do not accuse them or belittle their ability. Consider how you might feel in their situation and understand their concerns.

Involve them in the decision. Your loved one may understand that it is time to give up the keys to the car, but they may feel that they are losing their independence. It is important to hear and address their concerns.

Encourage them to seek medical advice. Encourage them to visit a doctor to check on their alertness, vision, and physical ability to drive. A doctor, who concurs with you, may give them a reason to stop.

Legal options. Legally, there are ways to revoke their driver’s license. You should see this as a last resort, but it is available if they are endangering themselves or others. We suggest trying to have a discussion with them and involving family members and medical professionals first.

Once the decision has been made for them to stop driving, how can you help?

Research transportation options. See what is available in their local community. Public transportation, door-to-door services, or volunteer networks are all possible options.   Involve available family and friends who may want to help, too.

Make a schedule. Determine what appointments they have, events they want to attend, errands to run, religious services, and meetings with friends. You do not want them to feel isolated or unable to leave the house. Make a schedule and help them figure out who can drive, combine activities in one trip, or use services to support them.

As with any difficult conversation, keep to the facts, try to see it from their side, and understand that they deserve dignity and respect. This is a life-changing event, and they will need your support beyond just giving them a lift somewhere.