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One of the most difficult conversations adult children will have with an aging parent is whether or not the parent can continue operating a motor vehicle safely. Having your aging loved one turn in their keys can be a stressful transition, and they may feel like you are taking away their autonomy and independence. However, deciding not to drive can be an empowering decision, especially if the senior understands that it’s the safest choice and that their current lifestyle and independence won’t be affected.

If you are wondering when to discuss driving privileges for the safety of your loved one and other individuals on the roadways, here is a checklist that may be instrumental in deciding when a loved one should turn in their keys:

  • Issues with Vision.As people age, changes in vision may occur. Cataracts, glaucoma or retinopathy (from diabetes) can hinder a senior’s ability to see clearly enough to drive safely. Remind mom or dad to attend regular eye appointments to catch any vision changes.
  • Issues with Hearing. Even if your parent wears a hearing device, make sure he or she can hear crucial sounds while driving. A safe driver, with or without hearing devices, needs to be able to hear sirens, other cars and other significant road sounds while driving.
  • Limitations with Physical Flexibility. Is your parent able to turn his or her head comfortably to see beyond the views that mirrors provide? In order to control a motor vehicle safely, drivers should be able to demonstrate flexibility and strength in the arms, legs and feet. As we age, our bodies shrink. Be sure that the seat is in a forward position that gives the driver the appropriate range of motion while driving. Add an appropriate seat pillow if necessary to raise the driver’s seat for safer driving.
  • Concerns with Cognitive Performance. People diagnosed with Alzheimer's and other cognitive concerns can become confused and disoriented anywhere. If a parent or loved one who is still driving regularly gets lost, even in familiar areas, or has difficulty understanding street signs and directional signs, it may be time to intervene.
  • Use of Prescription Drugs. Medications are taken for a variety of reasons, but some come with side effects that can be harmful to safe driving. If your parent’s prescription causes sleepiness or other reactions where driving could become dangerous, have a physician review the medications to check the dosage and determine if there’s a substitute with lesser side effects that won’t impair driving.

If none of these issues apply and you still have concerns for the safety of your parent, consider these next steps to ascertain your parent’s ability to drive:

  • Take a ride. Periodically go for a drive with your parent and watch how he or she controls the vehicle, handles turning the wheel and looks for potential hazards.
  • Check out the vehicle. Inquire about the maintenance of the vehicle (tire tread, oil changes) to be sure it’s in good operating condition. Also, frequently check the vehicle for dents and scratches.
  • Escort your parent to doctor’s appointments. When possible, attempt to attend regular doctor Arrange for your parent to sign a release of confidentiality form so medical providers can share any and all medical information with you legally and keep you in the loop.

Age is not and should not be the motive for eliminating the means for transportation. Just as there are people older than 80 who continue to safely drive, there are many others who, while younger than 70, may be dangerous on the roads. Consider all possible risks that may affect an older adult who continues to drive. If you have concerns, don’t wait until a crisis occurs to assess your parents’ needs.

Remember that a professional caregiver from Home Care Assistance can drive your parents to and from doctors’ appointments, errands or social gatherings. Turning in the keys does not mean the end of independence, but rather a new chapter with the opportunity to be more social and stress-free!

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