Giving Up the Keys: Talking to Elderly Parents About Driving

Mar 22, 2016

Giving Up the Keys: Talking to Elderly Parents About Driving

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Growing old comes with many perks, such as wisdom, retirement and, for some, grandchildren. Although as people age, the body faces many physical disadvantages too. Elderly adults can become frail, more prone to illnesses, and suffer from difficult issues such as loss of bladder control or loss of sight. Unfortunately, these circumstances affect many of the everyday activities people take for granted, like driving.

Most people have become frustrated driving behind a senior at least once in their lives, whether the senior was driving too slow, too fast, merging without a turn signal, or just driving recklessly in general, it’s a frustrating situation. Although, it becomes more frustrating, and even terrifying, when this senior is a parent or other loved one.

When the time comes to talking to a parent or other elderly loved one about giving up the keys, it is necessary to approach the delicate matter with respect, dignity and, above all, persistence. After all, it’s the safety of the seniors and those on the road with them that is causing concern.

Signs It's Time to Talk to Your Elderly Parent about Driving

Knowing when to make the decision about talking to a loved one about giving up the car keys can be difficult, but thankfully, there are plenty of signs that a family member may notice. Here is a list of a few of the red flags that family members should look out for:

  • Misjudging space between other cars (merging, turning, etc.)
  • Loss of vision or hearing
  • Confusion that leads to getting lost
  • Complaints from other drivers
  • Finding new dents/scratches in the car
  • Crashing or almost crashing (fender benders)
  • Slow response times to changes in traffic
  • Physical disabilities that make it difficult to turn around or move about

A number of disorders, illnesses and disabilities can be another reason for a senior to give up their car keys. It is especially important to have the talk if a loved one is prescribed a medication that may impair driving in any way, even if he or she seems capable otherwise.

Approaching the Topic

As with any sensitive topic, family members must approach the idea of giving up driving carefully and treat their loved one respectfully. After all, this person has probably been driving a very long time, so handing over the keys can essentially feel like giving up their freedom.

Prior to discussing the idea of giving up driving, family members should consult the individual’s physician. There may be an underlying, fixable medical issue. If the doctor agrees that it is time for the individual to give up the keys, family members can move forward with the assurance that they are doing the correct thing.

Family members and loved ones should express to the senior that they fear for their safety and the safety of those on the road with them. If the individual argues and claims competence, loved ones should offer to visit the physician with them and discuss all the options they now have. If an individual continues to disagree, friends and family should remain persistent to ensure the safety of their loved one.

Helping Seniors Cope with Giving up the Road

When a loved one is dubbed unable to drive, it is not enough to simply hand them a bus pass and send them on their way. While public transportation may be a great option, especially in urban areas, it may not always be the most logical answer, especially for seniors that may have never used public transportation. 

Some alternative transportation options seniors have to get where they are going include:

  • Taxis
  • Friends/Family
  • Uber (if available in your city and state)
  • Transportation offered by local programs

Above all, it is important for elderly adults to know that giving up their car keys is not the end of their freedom. Family members and loved ones should encourage seniors to continue participating in any scheduled, weekly activities. Friends and family should offer help with transportation when they are able (within reason), and help them figure out the other options they have for getting around.

This may also be a time for a new living arrangement. Although your loved one may be completely healthy, aside from whatever is keeping them from driving, it could be time to consider options like retirement homes. Retirement homes offer help with grocery shopping, as well as shuttles to get individuals wherever they’d like to go.

While growing old may come with disadvantages and frustrations, with help from friends and family, as well as the abundance of transportation options available, giving up the keys doesn’t have to be one of them.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can a senior with Alzheimer's disease still drive safely?

A senior in the early stage of Alzheimer’s or another dementia-related condition does not necessarily need to stop driving. However, drivers with these conditions might not know when they are an unsafe driver. As a senior, you should have a friend or family member that is willing to tell you when your driving becomes unsafe.

It is also important to tell a friend or family member if you become confused while driving. Seniors with moderate to severe dementia should not drive.

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My dad recently had his license revoked by his doctor due to his Alzheimers. But he REFUSES to stop driving. He's very dangerous on the road! How can we get him to stop?

One symptom of Alzheimer's Disease is thinking that others are plotting or scheming against you. He probably feels like you are "out to get him" and are trying to take away his independence. Take the car away, and hide the keys to your vehicles. If your father asks about the car, insist that it is away for repairs. Volunteer to drive your dad where it is he needs to go. It may hurt to tell your dad these tall tales, but it would be even worse if he got on the road and hurt himself or someone else.

I'm sorry you have to be in this situation, but just remember that if there is no car, there is no driving.

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