Claiming the Car Keys from an Elderly Parent – When is it time?

As our parents age, there are conversations we have to have about safety concerns. One that looms large is the conversation about giving up driving. But if you find yourself preparing to have this talk, it may provide some small comfort to know you’re not alone. As the number of elderly drivers on the road increases rapidly, more and more children are finding themselves having this conversation with one or both of their parents. So how do you know when it’s time to have the conversation? And how do you go about finding the right words?

Recognizing Signs

Unfortunately, there’s rarely a clear-cut tipping point where it becomes necessary to speak with our parents about giving up their keys. Often, worries accumulate as small things begin to add up. If you drive with your parent or parents often, it may be easier to notice these things.

Speed is often a clear indication, whether your parent is consistently driving too fast or too slow. Difficulty remaining within the lines of the lane or road is also something to take note of. In some cases, an elderly driver may find themselves hitting the curb on a fairly regular basis, which you’ll have trouble missing when you’re in the car. Slowing reaction times, the need to squint to see, frequent distractibility, and momentary forgetfulness of the destination are other things to watch out for.

But what if you’re not often in the car while your parent is behind the wheel? In that case, make it a point to check for new scrapes or dents, and periodically ask about any speeding tickets or other traffic violations your parent may have incurred.

Understanding Their Point of View

As your worries mount and you begin to formulate the conversation you’re going to have, take a moment to think about things from your parent’s perspective. You likely remember the incredible feeling of freedom that came with getting your driver’s license. There was the time before you could drive, but most of us don’t contemplate a time after. Giving up something that’s been a part of your life for decades, and that you never thought you’d have to give up, is difficult.

Many seniors already suffer from feelings of loneliness and depression. Taking away their means to go out, do things, and see people can heighten those feelings and bring a palpable sense of fear about the future. In many cases, they don’t have a “Plan B” for what to do after they stop driving, and it can be difficult to formulate one.

Having the Conversation

One of the best things to do is to have this conversation before it’s necessary. Try to introduce the idea long before it’s time to act on it. Ideally, your parent will see the logic in it and slowly begin the process of coming to terms with one day giving up their keys.

Try not to go into the conversation like you’re issuing an ultimatum, or like the decision has already been made. When the conversation is regarding the imminent need to stop driving, the best-case scenario is to have it be a conclusion that you and your parent reach together.

It’s vital that your family is on board before you speak with your parent. If someone doesn’t think it’s time for mom or dad to give up their keys, they can provide an outlet and an ally for your parent’s fears and anxieties, undermining your efforts.

A senior's physician can also be quite a help so be sure to talk with the physician about your concerns. Many times the family physician, who is usually aready a trusted authority, can speak to the senior patient about the senior's status and make professional recommendations regarding the senior's ability to drive.

Lastly, take the time to come up with a potential Plan B for your parent, whether that’s a driving schedule taken up by nearby family members, downloading the Lyft or Uber app, or looking into an Assisted Living Community, or Independent Senior Apartment where friends and activities are close at hand and transportation is provided.

Once you’ve had the driving conversation with your loved one, see how we can assist them. From senior living options to in-home options, we’ll connect you with the professionals that can make the next step of your loved one’s life a smooth one.

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