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When Should You Take Away the Car Keys?

Seniors are usually reluctant to give up driving. Taking the car keys removes their own ability to drive to the store, church, senior center, or library ─ or to simply meet up with friends for coffee. The experience can be quite traumatic

Seniors are usually reluctant to give up driving. Taking the car keys removes their own ability to drive Seniors are usually reluctant to give up driving. into the store, church, senior center, or library? or to simply meet up with friends for coffee. The experience can be quite traumatic.

Remember: Age is just a number. A senior's age is not reason enough for taking away the car keys. There are people in their 90s who drive safely, while others decades younger can be a real danger to themselves and others.

Focus on Physical and Mental Health and Abilities, not Age 
The fact is, people age differently. Several factors place seniors at much greater risk for road accidents and affect seniors’ driving ability, including:

Vision problems. 
Cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy can hamper driving ability. (Cataracts and glaucoma can be surgically corrected.)  Poor depth perception, narrowed peripheral vision, poor judgment of speed, poor night vision, and increased sensitivity to bright sunlight, headlights, and glare can all become problems with age.

Lack of physical ability. 
Driving takes dexterity, ability, and strength to control a vehicle at all times. Range-of-motion issues, such as inability to look over the shoulder, trouble shifting gears, or confusing gas and brake pedals can be a problem. Drowsiness may also occur in older adults, even during the day.

Diseases and chronic conditions. 
Those with Alzheimer's disease can become disoriented anywhere, and a severe diabetic may fall into a coma. Rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, and heart disease can impair seniors’ driving ability and skills.

Older people often take more medications. This can result in risky, unpredictable and dangerous side effects and drug interactions that cause drowsiness and/or a slowing of the person's reaction time. The senior’s doctor(s) can discuss side effects and a pharmacist may be able to do a quick computer-based analysis.

Warning Signs that Mean It’s Time to Act
According to the National Institute on Aging, there are several critical indications that a senior may be losing the judgment or ability to drive. These are:

  • Poor driving at night, or drastically reduced peripheral vision even if 20/20 with corrective lenses
  • Struggling to drive at higher speeds, or erratic driving such as abrupt lane changes, braking or acceleration,
    hitting curbs, missing turns, or barely missing cars or pedestrians
  • Getting lost frequently, even on familiar roads, and having trouble reading street signs or navigating directions
  • Acting startled, claiming that cars or pedestrians seem to appear out of nowhere
  • At-fault accidents, more frequent near-crashes, dents and scrapes; traffic tickets or “warnings” by authorities
  • Not using turn signals or keeping them on without changing lanes, lane drifting, driving on the wrong side of the road

Having the Conversation
Talking to a senior about the need to stop driving is one of the most difficult discussions you may ever face, and there may be resistance. However, it’s better to get advice from someone familiar than by an order from a judge or the DMV. Harriet Vines, author of Age Smart: How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy suggests the following:

  • Be empathetic, not confrontational
  • Keep the conversation non-accusatory, honest, and between “adults”, not “child and parent”
  • Help the senior gain comfort in asking for assistance

Alternative Transportation
Research other available transportation. Call the local Area Agency on Aging for ideas ? and talk to your family members about being volunteer drivers. Also, help the senior make a schedule. He or she can plan activities and combine trips on days when a caregiver can drive.

Stress Your Concern for Safety
Involve the senior in the conversation. You may find a positive reaction when talking honestly about your care and concern for their safety. A person 70 or older involved in a car accident is more likely to be seriously hurt, require hospitalization, or die than a younger person involved in the same crash.

If a senior is still capable of driving, suggest enrollment in a Mature Driving course. It may qualify a senior for a discount on auto insurance. AARP has a driver’s safety course at

Comfort Keepers® Can Help. 
Our Interactive Caregiving™ keeps senior clients engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally while living independently at home. One of our many Companionship Services can include help with transportation. Call your local office today to find out more.

References: “Is It Time to Take Away the Car Keys?” Web. 2016. “Taking The Car Keys Away From Elderly Parents” by Kathy N. Johnson, PhD, CMC. Web. 2015. Driver’s Safety Course. Web. 2016.

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