When and how to take away the car keys | Home Care Assistance When and how to take away the car keys | Home Care Assistance
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When and how to take away the car keys

– Kathy Johnson, PhD, CMC Tuesday , May 5th, 2009

Overall, many older adults are capable of driving safely, even into their seventies and eighties. But people age differently. Several factors place seniors at much greater risk for road accidents. More important, a person 70 or older who is involved in a car accident is more likely to be seriously hurt, more likely to require hospitalization and much more likely to die than a young person involved in the same crash. Knowing the risk factors and warning signs of an older loved one who has become unable to safely operate a vehicle will help you gauge when it’s time to take away the keys. There are also strategies to help you talk to seniors sensitively about giving up driving and present them with practical transportation alternatives.

Many of the changes that often come with age can adversely affect driving ability. These include:

  • Visual decline—including poor depth perception, narrowed peripheral vision, poor judgment of speed and poor night vision, along with increased sensitivity to bright sunlight, headlights and glare.
  • Hearing loss—especially the ability to hear important warning sounds while driving.
  • Limited mobility and decreased flexibility—which increases response time slows pedal selection and steering control, and limits the ability to turn one’s head to look for hazards.
  • Chronic conditions—such as rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, heart disease or diabetes can impair driving skills, even suddenly.
  • Medications—as older people often take more medications, which, in combination or taken with alcohol, can result in risky unpredictable and dangerous side-effects
  • and drug interactions.
  • Drowsiness—is often due to medication side-effects or sleep difficulties that come with age, resulting in daytime tiredness and an increased tendency to doze off during the day (or while driving).
  • Dementia or brain impairment—makes driving more dangerous and more frustrating. It can also cause delayed reactions and confusion on the road.

When it’s time to hang up the keys
Talking to a relative about his or her need to stop driving is one of the most difficult discussions you may ever face. However, it’s better if it comes in the form of advice from you or someone he or she knows rather than by an order from a judge or the DMV. One of the main reasons seniors are reluctant to give up driving is that it is one of the few ways they can continue to feel self-sufficient. The discussion becomes even more difficult when the person still maintains most of his or her faculties, just not those that enable safe driving.

How to approach “The Talk”
It helps to have a thoughtful, caring plan in place before saying anything, says Harriet Vines, author of “Age Smart: How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy.” She suggests:

  • Be empathetic. “Imagine how you would feel if you were in your parent’s place,” Vines says. Ask others to join in the meeting. It helps to involve other family members in the discussion—to help, but not to confront.
  • Keep the conversation non-accusatory, honest and between “adults,” not “child and parent.” Say things like, “We’re concerned,” “We care” or “We don’t want you to get hurt or to hurt others.” Once you’ve both come to an agreement, you can continue to support your loved one in ways beyond just offering rides.
  • Encourage the senior to use positive language to describe their situation to others and help them gain comfort in asking for assistance.
  • Help the senior make a schedule. He or she can plan activities and combine trips on one day when a caregiver can drive them.
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